Mother wouldn’t let son’s softball dream die, after her close call with death

FAMILY BOND: Caleb Stewart with his mother Catherine Ackerley who suffered a serious stroke and almost died in 2016. PHOTO: Martin Hunter

Caleb Stewart’s mother suffered a horrific stroke ‘out of the blue’ which he thought would put his aspiration to be a top-level softballer on hold so he could take care of her and the family.

But his mother would not let his dream die.

Caleb, 16, has recently been named in the emerging sox, an under-17 national softball side.

Two years ago he almost gave the sport up to help his mother, Catherine Ackerley, 42, who was unable to talk, walk, drive or take care of herself or her family.

FAMILY BOND: Caleb Stewart with his mother Catherine Ackerley who suffered a serious stroke and almost died in 2016. PHOTO: Martin Hunter

“There was a moment where I thought I might quit [softball and school] get a job to help the family, but mum told me not to. She said it your dream and you have to keep chasing it,” he said.

Ms Ackerley was at home in bed with her partner about 10pm in December 2016, three days before her 41st birthday, about to drift off to sleep when something ‘just didn’t feel right’.

“I managed to get up and have a look in the mirror and noticed my lip was slightly drooping, my speech was a little slurred and I was having trouble walking,” she said.

“From there thing get really hazy.”

She woke up in hospital a few days later unable to move or talk.

She had suffered what doctors described as a rare stroke caused by a cavernoma, a cluster of abnormal cells usually found in the brain or spinal cord that can burst between the ages of 20-40.

“That is the simple version of what happened. It is inoperable,” she said.

Doctors in the first few days were wondering if she would wake up at all, and if she did there was a good chance of her having severe brain damage, she said.

But not willing to quit, not only did Ms Ackerley wake up, she started to speak and found she had retained quite a bit from before the stroke, surprising doctors, she said.

She spent about a year in rehab learning the basics again and her progress has meant she is able to head back to work if only for six hours a week as an information technology technician in health care.

Without the help of Caleb and his siblings, Amy Stewart, 13 and Connor Stewart, 6, she said the task would have been too hard.

“I am extremely grateful as it is a lot to ask of teenagers really and they have had to adopt a huge amount of responsibility,” she said.

She still cannot drive as here eyesight prevents her from holding a licence, she is quite weak on her right side still and she said he voice sounds strange in her head after the stoke.

Caleb said he was just doing what any good son would do – looking after his mum.

He said when his mum first got sick, he didn’t know what was going on.

“Life changed a lot for us. I had to do more around the house, get myself to training either on the bus or with a mate,” he said.

“We are all working towards the same goal. But for me, I just have to work that much harder.”

His dream is to play for his country, much like his uncle, Paul Ackerley, who played right-half in New Zealand’s greatest every field hockey squad who won gold at the Montreal Summer Olympics in 1976 when they stunned Australia 1-0.

He plays his club softball for Albion, based in Upper Riccarton, and plays in the middle infield.

In 2016 he was part of the under-15 developing sox and went to Australia and played in the under-17 Queensland state championships placing second to Logan City.

Caleb has also played for the Canterbury under-15 development, Canterbury A under-15 as well as the Canterbury under 17 and under 19 teams.

The 25-man squad will assemble in from April 19-22 in Auckland along with the developing sox under-15 and will include a game against an Australian selection.