It would have made for a heck of a story — Matthew Chavarria finds passion for dentistry after getting drilled in the face with a baseball his junior year of high school.
But, taking a laser groundball to the face that fractured his nasal bone is not what led Chavarria to become a dental surgeon.
“It didn’t influence my decision to go into dentistry too much,” said Chavarria Tuesday evening from Washington, D.C. “The things that did were more just my desire to be in the health field and working with my hands.”
Chavarria, a 2011 graduate of Kodiak High School, recently earned his doctorate in dental surgery from Creighton School of Dentistry. He begins his four-year residency with the MedStar Hospital group in Washington, D.C., today.
Even though getting smacked with a baseball didn’t sway his career path, it did leave a lasting impression on his face — there is a divot on one side of his nose, while the other side has a fragment that sticks out.
The gruesome injury happened near the end of his junior season. Better known for his presence on the mound, Chavarria was manning third base — the hot corner — in a nonleague game against Colony at the then-gravel and grass Baranof Field.
A Colony player stung a groundball down the third-base line. The ball’s trajectory changed after glancing off a rock, causing it to land on Chavarria’s face instead of the glove on his left hand.
“There was a moment of seeing a flash, and I could feel warm blood running down my face,” he recalled. “The ball was still in play, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to pick it up and throw it. I got up and just had blood coming down my face.”
The aftermath: A severed artery inside his nose that caused him to spend two days at the hospital until doctors could stop the bleeding. And a fractured nose bone.
“They had to put something up through my nose and down into my nasal passage and blew it up like a balloon — this weird, terrible torture device,” Chavarria said.
Kodiak went on to play in the state tournament but was without the services of Chavarria.
Rick Langfitt, Kodiak’s coach at the time, said the blow to the face was “just about as bad as I’ve seen.”
“Chavarria’s injury was more fuel for the fire in my crusade for the baseball field to share in the field improvements at Baranof,” Langfitt said.
Without Chavarria using his face as a mitt, the baseball field still might be a natural, uneven surface instead of artificial turf, which was installed in 2013.
“I’m glad that nobody else will have to go through that,” Chavarria said. “If I was the one who had to be the poster child, I’m fine with that.”
Chavarria returned the next fall to quarterback the football team and led the baseball squad back to the state tournament. He touted a 3-1 record and a 3.99 ERA in 33.1 innings pitched. He tried to stay away from the hot corner but did log a few innings there.
“I did play third base my senior year, but it was always with me in the back of my head,” Chavarria said.
He has been a career student since departing the island.
In 2015, he graduated from the University of Portland with a degree in biochemistry and language arts in Spanish. After wetting his teeth in the dental industry for a year working in Dr. Faber’s office in Kodiak, he enrolled at Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chavarria’s plans started with him being a dentist, but that changed when he learned more about oral surgery. He was attracted to the trauma, the infection and the life-changing surgeries.
“I knew that I wanted to do something with my hands, and I think that came from having to be very self-reliant coming from Kodiak and a very hard-working community,” he said.
He is looking forward to the next four years, where he will train at The Veterans Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Health. He will be doing oral maxillofacial surgeries.
“I know there is going to be a lot of sleepless nights on call because we take all facial trauma calls at this hospital … but it is part of what I signed up for and part of the reason why I like the field,” he said.
In September, Chavarria will be getting married to Abby Merrill, who he met while going to school in Oregon. The couple hopes to eventually land back in Alaska.
Nearly a decade after graduating, Chavarria still competes on the athletic field. He was the quarterback for an intramural flag football team at Creighton and played on slowpitch softball teams.
“I don’t know if I can get around as good anymore, but I still have the arm,” Chavarria said.