In South Texas baseball circles, at least as far as top Orioles pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez tells it, you know you’ve arrived if Thom Dreier comes to see you.
The Orioles’ area scout for that region, and the team’s 2016 Scout of the Year, doesn’t just go see anyone, let alone come in for a home visit. So it meant a lot two Christmases ago when Dreier came to Nacogdoches, Texas, to visit the young man who would be the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft and grow into a foundational piece of the Orioles’ rebuild.
When those visits resume, Dreier’s presence will be special for an entirely different reason: a month before this spring’s draft, Dreier went into cardiac arrest in his truck near his home in The Woodlands, Texas, a medical emergency that left his chances of survival lower than that of a draft pick making the majors.
“All we had was hope,” said Dreier’s mother, Barbara. “We didn’t know whether he’d be OK or not or how OK he’d be, but all we had was hope.”
Dreier, 42, remembers nothing about May 8, though looking back, he finds it odd he didn’t have his cellphone with him that afternoon. He doesn’t even remember where he was going.
All that’s clear is he ended up stopped in his Toyota Tacoma in the middle of Falconwing Drive, just outside his subdivision in the Houston suburbs.
That’s where Adrian Heath — an Australian who moved from California to Houston for a job at Exxon in 1990, and stayed even after he was laid off because he was “too broke to leave” — found him, his car stopped in the middle of the road.
The two live in neighboring developments, and as Heath was leaving his, he saw traffic going around the truck. He drove past, too, wondering if the man slumped over in the driver’s seat was simply drunk.
“But as I rolled by, his vehicle started rolling away and into a ditch,” Heath said.
Heath did a U-turn, stopped and found Dreier unconscious in his car. Dreier made a gurgling noise. Heath called 911, where Scott McCully of the Montgomery County Hospital District’s dispatch helped him.
Heath, 62, couldn’t move Dreier, who was listed at 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds coming out of Oklahoma State 20 years ago, and was no smaller in May. Heath reclined the driver’s seat and was guided through CPR over speakerphone.
McCully asked him to do chest compressions and counted out for him, “One, two, three, four.” Another driver stopped to ask if Heath needed help. Only an ambulance, Heath told the driver, and by then they could hear the sirens approaching.
A fire crew and paramedics took over, and eventually Heath was thanked and sent on his way. His appointment that afternoon was with an old friend named Bob Bagley, a Montgomery County Hospital District board member. Privacy laws prevented Heath from getting any significant updates, but he asked Bagley to check around, and was told Dreier was alive when he got to the hospital.
“The last view I had was Thom lying on the blacktop, and it didn’t look good,” Heath said.
‘They could never tell us, “He’s going to be fine” ’
Sometime that afternoon, about 800 miles north in Union, Missouri, a sheriff was parked outside Barbara and Wayne Dreier’s home asking if they knew a Wayne Dreier in Montgomery County, Texas; Thom’s given name is Wayne as well.
They only knew to ask that because of the Orioles credential in his truck; there was no other identification.
Barbara Dreier told them that was their son, and it was 45 minutes before they were able to find out what happened. That period, she said, was the absolute worst.
When they found out about his cardiac arrest, she went to St. Louis to pick up Dreier’s sister, Susan Rosenhoffer, and fly to Houston. They arrived at midnight and began a constant vigil beside his hospital bed in the intensive care unit at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. He’d had surgery, been cooled down and was sedated into a medically induced coma.
Barbara Dreier described it as a scene out of a soap opera, where they’d squeeze his hand and ask him to squeeze back to indicate he knew they were there.
Doctors couldn’t tell Dreier’s family whether he’d make a full recovery, or any at all.
“They could never tell us, ‘He’s going to be fine. He’s not going to be a vegetable,’ ” Barbara Dreier said. “They couldn’t know, because they didn’t know how long he was without oxygen. That was the hardest part, those two weeks in ICU when we had no idea if he was going to make it or how he was going to be if he made it.”
Rodriguez’s mother, Temple, texted during the ICU stay — when Barbara Dreier said they were “barely making it” — that the devil wants them to worry, so don’t worry. Instead, they held on to hope.
His sister marked the incremental progress on a chart. Doctors opened his eyes after about a week in the ICU and were heartened that his pupils responded to light. It just didn’t tell them too much about the prognosis.
May 15: The nurse asked him to open his eyes, and he did, moving his head and turning his arm.
May 17: Dreier turned his head and high-fived a visitor in his room.
May 18, straight from the television script: He squeezed his family members’ hands.
Dreier got off his ventilator May 20; smiled May 21; waved goodbye May 23; said “Ow” when someone with the hospital spilled cold water on him May 25; and when they brought his spaniel/golden retriever mix, Ollie, to visit and put Dreier in a wheelchair to be with him, he told hospital staff, “I’m spent.”
When he was transferred to the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation center, he still wasn’t moving, but there was promise. He read a nurse’s name off the white board in his room, “so we knew that he was in there,” Barbara Dreier said.
“His mind was good,” Barbara Dreier said. “It’s just that his mind hadn’t connected to his body, sort of.”
Once it did, it happened quickly.
“It was just amazing to see him go from nothing — it took like three people to stand him up to go to a walker one day,” his mother said. “Two days later, he was walking with the walker. Three days later, he was walking.”
He did short-term memory exercises at the rehab facility, but says when he first came to downtown about four weeks after the incident, he felt “pretty much back to normal.”
At outpatient physical therapy once he was released, they asked him to walk around an obstacle course at the facility.
Dreier said that was too easy, and instead pushed a football blocking sled around. He begins cardiac rehab over the next weekto start regaining the 70 pounds he’s lost. In the meantime, he bought a new belt.
‘It could have been worse’
Dreier’s recovery came in the downtime for an amateur scout, meaning Dreier hasn’t had the players to chase across Texas or reports to write that typically fill his day. Home visits like Rodriguez’s will have to wait. Instead, he’s visited with the people who helped save his life.
At the facility in The Woodlands, they visited the nurses who had tended to him, and Dreier recalls them saying, “We don’t see much of you very often.” Three weeks later, after an appointment with his cardiologist, another doctor who saw him during those early days was chatting with Barbara Dreier, but didn’t recognize Thom.
Once he did, it was the same refrain: “We don’t see much of you,” the doctor told him. “Only like 5% make it.”
“That was pretty eye-opening to have him say that,” Dreier said. “We had a pretty small window to hit, but I hit it, so it could have been worse.”
At a “save ceremony” with the Montgomery County emergency responders earlier this month, Barbara Dreier asked one how often he sees a survival from a heart incident like this, let alone a full recovery. “This is one,” he told her.
Dreier thanked the firefighters and emergency medical technicians for their help, but Heath couldn’t make it.
Their reunion came earlier. A police officer at one of the hospitals tracked down his name upon the Dreier family’s request, and Dreier’s sister called to tell him what happened.
“They told me the story about how he survived and the condition with his heart was one very, very few people survive,” Heath said. “It’s a high mortality rate, 95% or higher.”
The family pressed for a reunion, and Heath made it to the hospital one day when Dreier was still sedated, but he just walked in and walked out. They met for coffee once Dreier was home, and for lunch more recently with Heath and his wife, Kandy.
To some, it’s a different kind of heroism for Heath, though the state of Texas might disagree. According to the Houston Chronicle, he was hailed an “American Hero” on a lawn sign two summers ago when he was paroled from prison after serving three months of a sentence for illegally voting in a local election with the intention of exposing practices he believed were corrupt.
The Dreiers say Heath will be a part of their lives forever. Heath is just glad he changed his May 8 appointment from noon to 2 p.m.
“I left my house to get to him at a different time, which put me right there on top of Thom at the time that God appointed,” Heath said. “That’s the amazing thing.”
‘I just want to get back to normal’
Through the entire recovery period, Barbara Dreier said the room was a “parade of scouts in the ICU,” helping distract the family from the still body beside them with funny stories about Dreier from their time on the road.
His arrival at TIRR in Houston coincided with the Orioles’ June trip there, so executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias visited him in the hospital. It was right after the draft — the most important time of the year for scouts — but he said the Orioles and interim scouting director Brad Ciolek have been in constant contact, much more wanting to know how he was than when he’d get back to work.
Once he was allowed, of course, that didn’t take long. He returned to work July 23 for a meeting and showcase game held by the Texas Scouts Association in Frisco.
He also went to California earlier this month for the Area Code Games, which bring together the top prep prospects from around the country.
But that was all before the Orioles culled their scouting department and front office by 11 people Aug. 23. The decision rankled some, but was described by Elias as “difficult” as the organization tries to reshape itself in his image.
Dreier was spared that fate, but has seen this play out before. Living in the Houston area, there was a lot of consternation when the Astros, Elias’ former employer, got rid of many scouts at the end of the 2017 season.
Elias came to the Texas Scouts Association meeting that winter in Waco and explained the organization’s reasons for eliminating the jobs the TSA held dear. Dreier “thought a lot of him for doing that.”
“He didn’t have to do that, and everything I’ve heard about him has been positive,” Dreier said. “I’m not worried about it.”
What he is worried about is how much longer remains until fall practices start up at the colleges around Texas. His mother headed home to Missouri on Thursday after 16 weeks with her son, and leaves behind an eager scout who is hard at work on his fall schedule.