Local soccer player recovering from brutal head collision

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 8:33 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Kelli and Kurt Aberson lived the ultimate nightmare of any sports parent on Thursday night.

Their son, Dawson Aberson, was playing goalkeeper for Roosevelt’s boys soccer team. He jumped up to save a shot. The head of a Harrisburg player collided with the right side of Dawson’s face, leaving Dawson unconscious for 10 to 15 seconds. He laid in pain on the field for several minutes.

A nurse, a trainer, and Roughriders coach Victor Naranjo hovered over him as the game stopped and the crowd came to a bewildered hush. Blood gushed from Dawson’s eye. He was rushed to an acute care center, then to Sanford Hospital’s emergency trauma center. Kelli said all medical care was top notch, from the field to the ER.

“I was really scared,” Kelli told Dakota News Now on Monday. “Obviously, it could’ve been worse. Thankfully, he has a concussion, but there were no brain bleeds and, I mean, we were very grateful for that.”

Dawson’s eye was, and still is, swollen shut. He suffered a massive cut above his eye, which needed eight stitches. There are multiple broken bones around his eye, and Dawson will need multiple surgeries on his right zygomatic bone, which is the cheekbone.

Within the next week or so, after the swelling continues to subside, doctors will repair the zygomatic bone in one of two ways — through a pallet in his mouth or, if there’s not enough structural integrity there, through the an area above the cheekbone, where they will place in a permanent plate. Kelli said she’s praying for the former.

It is unclear if Dawson will get his full vision back. That depends on if tiny muscles around the eye come back and allow him to move his eye from left-to-right and up-to-down. Kelli said there are a lot of prayers for that, as well.

Kelli said Dawson has been ”pretty quiet” and has been sleeping a lot, as recommended. Well wishes from his teammates, his classmates, and the entire soccer community of Sioux Falls have been pouring in.

“There was a girl — it was so sweet last night,” Kelli said. “Someone messaged him, ‘Hey, I put a card in your mail box for you.’ So, he went out there at 9:00, and here’s this card from a friend. It was just — that kind of stuff has really been helping.”

Naranjo, who is in his first season as the Riders’ coach, visited Dawson last night, along with Naranjo’s girlfriend.

“I think that lifted his spirits,” Kelli said. “He was able to visit with them and kind of talk through things, and they just said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like, we want you to be on the bench, as soon as you feel up to it.’

“(Victor is) an amazing coach, and all these boys are so blessed to have him as their head coach.”

Described by Kelli as a sweet, caring, and sensitive kid — “you could not ask for a better son” — Dawson has been “chasing the soccer ball around” since he was a little kid. Goalkeeper has always been his preferred position. Kelli and Kurt tried to get him to try other sports, but he stuck with soccer.

He earned the role of starting goalkeeper for Roosevelt at the start of his junior year last season. This is his first major injury.

Kelli admitted she had always worried about a major injury like this happening. Asked if the incident gives her second thoughts about Dawson staying with soccer, and playing a position where collisions with the ball, with other humans, and with steel posts are possible, Kelli took a deep breath and said, “Oh, boy.”

“It’s almost a sigh of relief that he won’t be in that position again,” Kelli said. “I know that when you sign up to play sports, you assume some risk and you know that’s a possibility. I’m sad but I’m kind of relieved that he won’t be in that position again.”

Roosevelt officials declined to address the incident to Dakota News Now, and added the Sioux Falls School District will not comment, either. But another Roosevelt parent said the school is filing a report to a sports governing body regarding how the game was officiated.

Kelli would not address that matter specifically, saying she’s “not an expert in all the rules and regulations.” But she did say this:

“Definitely, I just want to make sure the refs are qualified and that they’re competent and they’re watching to prevent things like this from happening,” Kelli said.

Asked about the health of the Harrisburg player who collided with Dawson, Harrisburg’s activities director Jim Altenburg emailed back, “I’m not able to comment on student matters such as this.”

The good that has come out of this is the support from all kinds of people, Kelli said. Naranjo led a meeting of Rider soccer players and parents on Sunday night, engineering an effort to uplift Dawson with encouragement and get the word out about supporting the family financially through the medical procedures to come.

Already, “#DAWSONSTRONG” is a social media movement. There will be a fundraising event for Dawson at Shenanigan’s Sports Bar on Sunday, Oct. 1, from Noon to 4 p.m. All proceeds will go to the Dawson’s family.

“It’s amazing to have that kind of support,” Kelli said. “We’ve been in the Sioux Falls community ever since we got married, and to have that kind of support is absolutely incredible. We’ve tried to participate in those fundraisers through the years, and, boy, we’ve seen that return.”

Kelli said the family is asking for prayers from anyone who reads this — for the best possible recovery and life for Dawson. As devastating as it has been, she repeatedly expressed her gratefulness that Dawson is alive and has his major capacities, both brain and body.

“We have been blessed,” Kelli said. “He’s played since he was little, and he’s never even had stitches. He’s never had a broken bone, so we are very grateful he’d gotten to play a sport he’s loved all these years. But it was definitely scary. We just want him —”

Kelli paused to gather her emotions.

“We just want him back like he was before.”