Ryan Westmoreland makes progress

Updated: February 21, 2011, 10:10 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's been almost one year since Boston Red Sox prospect Ryan Westmoreland underwent surgery to remove a cavernous malformation on his brain stem.

His recovery is nothing short of miraculous, and the 20-year-old outfielder is back at spring training and has been hitting balls tossed by coaches the last few days. He says he feels good.

"Doctors didn't think I would be able to take BP this early," he said Monday afternoon.

The Portsmouth, R.I., native is scheduled to travel to Boston for an examination on Tuesday with the team's neurologist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He'll be back in camp later this week.

He was diagnosed with the malformation after experiencing headaches and numbness during spring training last year.

The malformation caused an episode of bleeding in the brain last year. Typically, any further bleeding could cause severe neurological damage, according to Dr. Joseph Maroon, the vice chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A cavernous malformation, Maroon said, "is a congenital abnormality of small abnormal capillaries [tiny blood vessels] that are connecting vessels between the arteries and veins.

"These capillaries have very thin, weak walls and are susceptible to bleeding because of their thin walls. And the cortex, or brain stem, is an extremely sensitive area from which to remove [the malformation]. It's very unusual to find these abnormalities in the brain stem."

Neurological damage resulting from a cavernous malformation could affect movement and eye function, depending on where the malformation is located, Maroon said.

The malformation is typically embedded in normal tissue.

"The tissue of the brain stem is extremely sensitive to disruption,'' he said, "and thus requires meticulous dissection."

Westmoreland left Boston's minor league camp last year on March 4 and was examined at Massachusetts General Hospital the next day. After consultations with three specialists, the decision was made to have the surgery, which was performed by Robert Spetzler in Arizona.

After surgery he underwent physical, occupational and speech therapies.

"The thing I keep hearing from every doctor, they term it remarkable," Westmoreland said last June. "Only three months out, I'm doing things above the limits of what the doctors thought they'd be. My therapists keep shooting goals for me, and I keep breaking them earlier than expected."

Westmoreland, a fifth-round pick in 2008, set a 2011 goal of playing at Double-A Portland. For now, he's taking it one step at a time and succeeding. He attended a few Red Sox games at Fenway Park last summer. Now, he's working his way back in the same camp as the players he was watching.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and Brendan Hall was used in this report.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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