Audubon player back after brain surgery

Quick recovery: Jannetti
Quick recovery: Jannetti (in the hospital before his surgery.)
Posted: April 11, 2013

Justin Jannetti didn't think it was a big deal. He grabbed his glove, pulled down his cap, and trotted onto the baseball field for the start of another inning.

He's done the same thing hundreds of times in his life.

But a lot of other people at Hank Greenberg Field in Audubon on Sunday knew this was different.

His mother and father fought back tears.

Folks in the stands yelled and clapped when the public-address announcer noted that Jannetti was playing second base for Audubon High School.

Even Audubon coach Rich Horan, who has led the Green Wave to seven state titles, including the last two with Jannetti as a starter, sensed the significance of the moment.

"It was something special," Horan said of Jannetti's return to the field for the first time since undergoing brain surgery Feb. 1. "This was something a lot more important than baseball."

Jannetti, a senior, played one-half inning as Audubon finished up a 10-5 victory over Bishop Eustace in a clash of teams ranked in The Inquirer's South Jersey Top 10. He never got to bat. The ball never came his way in the field.

Afterward he tried his best, in an 18-year-old athlete's way, to downplay the drama.

"Why was everybody clapping?" Jannetti asked his mother, Carolanne Copsetta.

Jannetti was a key player for Audubon teams that won state titles in 2011 and 2012. Last season as a junior, he batted .328 with 5 doubles, 19 runs, and 16 RBIs. He hit his only home run in the state championship game.

An Audubon kid who grew up following one of the state's best baseball programs, Jannetti was focused on making the most of his senior season.

"He was so looking forward to this season," said Greg Jannetti, Justin's father. "I never saw him work harder."

Said Justin Jannetti: "I knew it was my senior year, my time to be a leader."

But there was a complication to Jannetti's preparations for his senior season. Starting in the fall, he was having occasional headaches.

"We took him to the doctor a few times," Copsetta said. "They were thinking sinus infection, allergies, not getting enough sleep. Typical things for teenagers."

In the early morning hours of Feb. 1, Jannetti woke up his mother. He said his head was hurting so badly that he felt nauseous.

His mother took him to Virtua hospital in Voorhees. A CT scan revealed a mass in the back of his head. He was immediately taken by ambulance to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, a surgical hospital.

There, an MRI showed two sizable tumors in the back of his head. He was prepped for emergency surgery.

"It happened so fast," Copsetta said. "There was no time to think."

The surgery took five hours. Jannetti recovered so well that he was home in two days, in time for Super Bowl Sunday - a pretty big deal in town since former Audubon High star Joe Flacco was playing quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens.

"His uncle drove to Baltimore to get Justin a Flacco jersey," Copsetta said. "We couldn't find one around here, so he had to drive to Baltimore to get one."

The tumors were vascular in nature, nonmalignant. But subsequent tests revealed two more at the base of his skull that need to be removed this summer.

Jannetti was able to start light exercising a few weeks after surgery. He was hoping to get ready for his senior season in baseball.

"Every time the doctors would go through all these worst-case scenarios with him, they always asked him, 'Any questions?' " Greg Jannetti said. "He always had one, 'Can I play baseball?' "

At first, the answer was no. Jannetti's parents said doctors were reluctant to release him to play sports because of the risk related to the location of the surgery as well as the additional tumors at the top of his spine.

That diagnosis changed over time, they said, as Jannetti continued to exercise and experienced no side effects and as the nature of his condition became clearer.

"They said he really is no more at risk than anyone else," Greg Jannetti said.

On Friday, the player was cleared to participate in full activity.

"That was exciting," Justin Jannetti said. "I had a big smile on my face."

His return has rallied his teammates.

"It's been inspirational," junior centerfielder Eric Schorr said. "We're playing for him."

Jannetti plans to attend West Chester (Pa.) University and major in criminal justice. He said he probably won't try to play baseball, although he's not sure.

He knows he has more surgery scheduled for this summer and maybe complications down the road. He said he's not worried.

"I'll deal with it when it comes," Jannetti said.

He said he's most excited to be back in uniform, back on the field for the last two months of his high school baseball career, back to help Audubon try for a "three-peat" in state titles.

His mother can tell.

"He normally shows no emotion," Copsetta said. "But when we got home [Sunday night] I could tell. I could see the look on his face, the smile.

"It was better than Christmas morning."


Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @PhilAnastasia and read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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