AS SHE SAT on the concrete steps outdoors Easton Stadium, her vibrant blonde hair wrapped in an outsized bow and a black bat bag slung over her shoulder, Stevie Wisz started to simply accept the apparent: She wasn’t going to play softball for UCLA.
3 times now she had arrived on the stadium steps for her tryout and all thrice nobody from the UCLA program had proven up.
“I used to be over it,” she mentioned. “Embarrassed. I simply wished to depart.”
Her first 5 months as a UCLA freshman had been a nightmare. After rising up three hours north within the rural city of Orcutt, she felt like she did not slot in Westwood. She had struggled to make mates, usually sitting in quiet corners of campus sobbing, questioning how she may have been so mistaken about the one college that had ever felt proper.
This was UCLA, the place that saved her life, in any case. Softball was the sport that had given her objective. A self-described “mediocre” highschool participant, she had by no means performed elite journey ball. However that hadn’t stopped her from pestering the Bruins’ coaches with emails begging for a tryout. They agreed. However now that they had stood her up three totally different instances. As she received as much as go away, she heard a voice on the stadium concourse.
“Stevie?” the voice mentioned. “Is that you just?”
THE PEDIATRICIAN APPOINTMENT started like another checkup for a 1-year-old. Measurements for peak, weight and head circumference. However when the physician positioned his stethoscope on tiny Stevie Wisz’s coronary heart, he did not like what he heard. “Bizarre,” recollects Melissa Wisz, Stevie’s mother. “He mentioned it sounded ‘bizarre.'”
X-rays revealed Wisz had an enlarged coronary heart. The physician instantly despatched Stevie and her mother to a pediatric heart specialist 40 miles away in San Luis Obispo. It was a dreadful coincidence. Two months earlier, Melissa’s 17-day-old son, Hunter, had died at that very same hospital due to issues from Potter syndrome, a uncommon delivery dysfunction. Now she discovered herself speeding to the identical hospital together with her daughter due to a coronary heart situation. “I simply bear in mind considering, ‘What’s going on, God? Please do not do that to me once more,'” Melissa mentioned.
In San Luis Obispo, docs identified Stevie with aortic stenosis, the extreme narrowing of the aorta because it branches out from the guts. Stevie’s aortic valve was one-sixteenth the scale it ought to have been. With such a slender passageway, a lot of the blood her coronary heart was pumping was leaking again into the guts chamber, which means her coronary heart needed to work that a lot more durable to pump blood all through her physique.
Wisz would finally want open-heart surgical procedure to avoid wasting her life. However the docs prompt suspending the surgical procedure so long as doable to permit the guts to develop nearer to its full dimension. They’d keep watch over Wisz by common checkups. Over the subsequent a number of years, she lived like many different little women, competing in soccer, basketball and monitor. In a fourth-grade monitor meet, she remembers working as arduous as she may however ending a distant final. “That was the primary time I bear in mind considering I used to be totally different,” she mentioned.
When Stevie Wisz completed final in a fourth-grade monitor meet, she realized one thing about her was totally different. Courtesy Wisz household
Over time, the blood leaking again into her coronary heart went from a light drawback to reasonable to extreme. By the summer season of 2006, after fourth grade, docs mentioned it was time for surgical procedure.
On that August day at UCLA Medical Heart, nurses pushed 9-year-old Stevie’s stretcher to the working room as her mother and pop walked alongside her. Melissa squeezed Stevie’s hand. A nurse promised to name with updates. They mentioned goodbye. The stretcher rolled by the double doorways. And she or he was gone.
For 9 hours, the Wiszes tried to maintain their minds occupied. It was inconceivable, particularly with the updates. The primary incision. The cracking of the breastbone. The guts-lung machine. Within the working room, docs found Stevie suffered from heterotaxy, a delivery defect that created a gap between the chambers of her coronary heart. They repaired that along with cleansing and widening her aortic valve.
The surgical procedure was profitable, albeit a short lived answer. In just a few years, she’d want one other open-heart surgical procedure to insert both a pig valve or a synthetic one into her aorta. And docs informed her she may not play soccer, basketball or another sport requiring endurance. She targeted on softball.
“When you have been to take a look at me, you by no means would have recognized what was occurring,” she mentioned. “However I knew. I used to be so self-conscious and insecure. Sports activities was my life. I needed to play one thing. I wished to show I may do it.”
AFTER HEARING HER title that day on the Easton Stadium stairs, Wisz stood up and met UCLA crew administrator Claire Donyanavard. Donyanavard escorted Wisz up a again ramp to the sector, the place a handful of UCLA gamers gathered earlier than follow. Assistant coach Lisa Fernandez and head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez launched themselves. Inouye-Perez took one have a look at Wisz in her hair bow, nostril ring and purple “W” visor from highschool and supplied just a few options.
“Very first thing she ever mentioned to me,” Wisz mentioned. “‘We do not put on bows right here. We do not put on nostril rings.’ After which she informed me to take off my visor as a result of she thought it was a Washington visor. They handed me a UCLA hat. I used to be so intimidated.”
Fernandez despatched Wisz to hitch a hitting group dealing with pitcher Selina Ta’amilo. Then she put her within the outfield, peppering balls from left to proper, forcing Wisz to dash forwards and backwards to point out her monitoring talents. Fernandez then timed Wisz working the bases. When the tryout was over, Fernandez mentioned she’d be in contact. However an impression had been made.
She wished to really symbolize the individuals who gave her life.
– Lisa Fernandez
“She simply had this ray of sunshine,” Fernandez mentioned. “The brightness in her eyes, on her face. The smile. The constructive vitality. Anybody who has ever met her is aware of she has this nice presence. Then you definately hear her story and it was similar to, ‘Wow, what can this child probably do for us?'”
Wisz’s reply was easy: No matter they wished. She’d be a supervisor. A follow participant. She’d feed balls into the pitching machine. Minimize sport movie. Shag fly balls. No matter. Just a few days later, UCLA invited Wisz to hitch the crew as a follow participant. She agreed, however earlier than and after follow, she would not go into the gamers’ clubhouse. “I used to be so awkward,” she mentioned. “The women should have thought I used to be such a weirdo.”
“She was so apprehensive about overstepping her boundaries,” mentioned Kylee Perez, a former UCLA All-Pac 12 infielder. “I would actually need to go on the market and get her, inform her she’s a part of the crew. ‘Come hang around with us.'”
Wisz did not journey with the crew for the opening event of the 2016 season in Texas. However after a number of Bruins contracted meals poisoning that weekend and the crew was left with no pinch runner, Perez approached Inouye-Perez about including Wisz to the roster. The next week, 20 minutes earlier than the crew bus left for a event in Palm Springs, docs medically cleared Wisz to journey and formally be part of the crew.
“My uniform was like an extra-large. We needed to triple-roll my pants,” she mentioned. “However I did not care.”
Stevie Wisz went swimming with dolphins on her Make-A-Want journey to Florida when she was 9 years previous. Courtesy Wisz Household
LATE IN THE summer season of 2007, a yr after Wisz’s first open-heart surgical procedure, Stevie and her mother have been purchasing for back-to-school garments when Melissa Wisz’s cellphone rang. Three days earlier, docs had requested Stevie to put on a 24-hour coronary heart monitor to keep watch over her progress. The information revealed Stevie’s coronary heart was stopping a number of instances an evening, for so long as 9 seconds at a time. Docs implored Melissa to get Stevie, then 10, to UCLA as quickly as doable so docs may set up a pacemaker.
“I’d hear her coughing on a regular basis at evening, however by no means actually thought something of it,” Melissa mentioned. “Seems that was her physique rebooting itself.”
Steve Wisz, Stevie’s dad, packed a bag and raced to the strip mall to choose up his spouse and daughter. They sped to UCLA, the place nurses once more rolled Stevie into the working room so docs may set up a pacemaker. It had nothing to do together with her earlier operation or her situation.
“Nobody is ever ready for a cellphone name like that,” Melissa mentioned. “It was mainly dangerous luck.”
5 years later, when Wisz was 15, the leakage in her aorta once more grew to become extreme, forcing one other open-heart surgical procedure. This time, her coronary heart was giant sufficient that docs may set up a pig valve to enhance the blood move. It was a 13-hour process. She was older, wiser. She understood the dangers. “I cried all the way in which right down to the hospital,” she mentioned.
However every journey to UCLA Medical Heart introduced with it a visit to the bookstore for brand new UCLA swag. And additional affirmation that she would at some point be a Bruin herself.
“It was by no means a query,” she mentioned.
After the surgical procedure, Wisz spent seven days in intensive care restoration. Throughout a kind of days, she instantly could not breathe. She started coughing uncontrollably. Gasping for air, she sat straight up in her mattress and checked out her mother for assist. Buzzers and alarms went off. Docs and nurses sprinted into the room, knocked Wisz out and positioned a tube down her throat to suck out the phlegm that had clogged her passageway. One among her lungs had collapsed.
“She had such a glance of worry in her eyes,” Melissa mentioned. “I used to be so scared. And I simply stored considering, ‘What else are they going to place my daughter by?'”
Wisz would return to high school in a wheelchair and, over a span of a number of months, finally make a full restoration. Docs informed her the brand new valve would final 10 to 12 years. However it will survive barely half that lengthy.