College angler competes in Bassmaster Classic six months after emergency brain surgery

The UAB neurosurgery team performed an emergency brain aspiration on Easton Fothergill after he was rushed to UAB Hospital with a large brain abscess.

Screenshot 2024 04 03 at 11.52.06 AMFothergill at the 2024 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors in March.Easton Fothergill, a 21-year-old collegiate angler at the University of Montevallo, stepped onto his boat and headed out into the waters of Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He baited his fishing hook and cast his line, taking in the sights and sounds of his first Bassmaster Classic.

Six months prior, Fothergill woke up to a different view: one of hospital room walls and fluorescent lights. Less than 24 hours before, he was rushed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital with a large brain mass. After diagnostic scans and tests, Fothergill underwent emergency brain surgery to drain a brain abscess located behind his right eye.

Fothergill, who frequently experienced migraines, developed a headache while finishing a tournament a few days prior. He went to an urgent care facility and received steroid shots that briefly alleviated the pain. Three days later, he could not get out of bed, eat or drink. 

“My roommates rushed me to the nearest hospital where they found a large brain mass, and I was immediately sent to UAB,” Fothergill said. “I arrived around 10 p.m., underwent scans and tests around 1 a.m., and was rushed into surgery before the sun was even up.”

A brain abscess is an organized collection of infection in the brain often caused by bacteria. While rare, with estimates of about four cases per million people in developed countries, they can quickly become life-threatening.

“Brain abscesses often present with non-specific symptoms such as headache and fever, making them challenging to diagnose,” said Marshall Holland, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Neurosurgery, who performed the surgery. “Early intervention is key because it allows us to directly take the pressure off of the brain and develop a long-term, targeted antibiotic treatment plan with our infectious diseases colleagues.”

inside bassmaster04Fothergill competed in the tournament only six months after undergoing emergency brain surgery at UAB.Holland and the UAB neurosurgery team performed an aspiration of the brain abscess by safely and precisely placing a tube through the brain and into the abscess using computer navigation. They removed a significant portion of the abscess and a sample that helped identify the bacteria present. Physicians in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases quickly developed an antibiotic plan that would help eliminate the remainder of the abscess. 

Following the surgery, Fothergill finally felt relief from the excruciating pressure in his head. He spent only a week in the hospital undergoing his specialized antibiotic treatment before returning to school. 

A month later, Fothergill found himself back on his boat representing Montevallo in the 2023 Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s. Reeling in 11 pounds and 13 ounces on the final day, Fothergill came out victorious with an invitation to compete in his first Bassmaster Classic.

“No one wants to find out they have a brain mass and then be told they have to undergo emergency surgery all while their family is miles away in a different state,” said Fothergill, a Minnesota native. “It was surreal winning the tournament so soon after. I was extra thankful for my friends, family and the UAB care team that helped me quickly get back on the water.”

Fothergill competed in his first 2024 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors in March 2024, only six months post-surgery, and finished in the Top 20. Back in Birmingham, his UAB care team cheered him on.

“Being able to help someone in a potentially dire situation and getting to see them return to doing the things they love is one of the best parts of my job,” Holland said. “I specifically want to recognize his friends’ and family’s contributions to his care. Their quick thinking and support definitely played a significant role in his speedy recovery and may even have saved his life.”