By Grace Moody, ’14
Softball Bears welcome a new addition to the team
Shouts from the dugout reach the players while spectators watch with crossed fingers. It’s the seventh inning and bases are loaded. While the golden bears and coach are hopeful for a win, they know that no matter the outcome, they have something more important than winning this season: a new teammate. Ivory Isaac, an eleven-year-old girl from Parkmoor Elementary School joined the girls varsity softball team for their 2014 season.
Ivory is appreciative to be part of a team after enduring 58 surgeries in the past six years. She suffers from a stage two brain tumor, known as ependymoma. According to the National Cancer Institute website, this disease, known as childhood ependymoma, occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
It was Jan. 4, 2008 when the Isaac family’s lives changed forever. Julie Isaac, Ivory’s mom, recalls the winter night when she brought her only child into the emergency room because she had been vomiting and getting regular headaches. After x-rays on Ivory, the frightening word ‘cancer’ escaped the doctor’s mouth when speaking with Isaac about her daughter’s condition.
“That’s when they explained to us that she had a large tumor that had to be removed within 48-72 hours to verify that it wasn’t cancer because it was cutting off the spinal fluid in her brain and it was probably going to end up killing her,” Isaac said. “We literally had no time to think about it at all.”
Due to complications in surgery, Ivory perforated her bowel which resulted in kidney, heart and lung failure. Ivory was in a coma, on a ventilator.
“They told her she wasn’t going to live, that the odds of her making it a month at that point were zero percent,” Isaac said. “And then they would come in and tell us that she was going to pass away that day. I was like, ‘no, you don’t know my daughter, we’re good.’”
After awaking from the coma almost six-and-a-half weeks later, Ivory got a tracheostomy, “a surgical procedure to create an opening through the neck into the trachea (windpipe). A tube is usually placed through this opening to provide an airway and to remove secretions from the lungs,” according to MedlinePlus. Ivory was also placed on the highest form of life support possible. Once out of the coma, although not knowing who her mom was, Isaac recalls one special thing Ivory said to her.
“Ivory was in the coma, but every time the doctors said [she might die] her heart-rate raced,” Isaac said. “When she woke up from the coma I remember her saying to me, ‘They told you I was going to die, and you told them, ‘No, you don’t know Ivory.’ She then said, ‘Thank you for fighting for me.’”
Due to Ivory’s loss of memory while in the coma, she had to rebuild her relationships with her friends and family. Isaac remembers telling Ivory that she was not her nurse, but her mom. To this, Ivory, being very willing and trusting, accepted her mom. Ivory’s reasoning as to why she was so accepting to forming a relationship with someone who she had forgotten was simple: “Because I heard you fight for me.”
“They came in a week later and told her she wasn’t going to walk again, she wasn’t going to eat by mouth again,” Isaac said. “Three weeks later she was running down the hallway chasing the other kids in the hospital.”
After years of follow-up scans, surgeries and many prayers, Ivory Isaac is now cancer-free and spending every possible minute with the girls softball team.
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation (FOJ)is the organization that got UAHS girls softball coach Todd Delboccio in touch with the Isaac family. According to the official FOJ website, their primary mission is, “to improve the quality of life for children and their families who are battling pediatric brain tumors and to raise awareness about this insidious disease.”
Through pairing children with brain tumors with local high school and college sports teams, FOJ aims to help improve the lives of children.
“The teams give these children love, support and friendship as they fight this devastating disease,” the FOJ website wrote. “We celebrate each day by creating lasting relationships between student athletes, the child, and their families.”
Due to softball coach Todd Delboccio’s initiation with FOJ, the three senior captains, Annika Wachtman, Elena Medich and Stacy Gibson met Ivory last August. Ivory began coming to team practices and scrimmages in December, during the team’s off-season.
Medich, who is excited to have Ivory as part of the team this year, said the softball program had tried to get connected with this organization last season.
“[Delboccio] wanted us to be involved and we were going to be involved last year but it fell through,” Medich said. “So this year we were so happy that we were able to have Ivory come on as part of our team.”
Isaac, recalling Ivory’s love for sports prior to her diagnosis in 2008, is excited that Ivory is able to spend the spring on the girl’s softball team.
“Before Ivory was diagnosed she loved sports, she was into sports all the time,” Isaac said. “And she loves baseball and softball so she’s very thrilled about being on the team.”
Having Ivory on the team is beneficial for both Ivory and the softball team, according to Medich.
“It helps us because she is a reminder of how lucky we are to play this sport and how lucky we are to be completely healthy,” Medich said. “And we help her because this is something for her to look forward to. She just got 15-plus older sisters, and so we’re kind of a family now and she gets to come cheer us on every day.”
Medich thinks that having Ivory on the team helps the whole Upper Arlington Softball Association. She hopes that the softball team will set an example and maybe other local high schools teams will get involved with FOJ.
“I think this is something that benefits everyone,” Medich said. “It’s good for Ivory, it’s good for her family, it’s good for us, our families and the softball association. So hopefully we can set an example for other UA teams.”
With Ivory’s positive experience on the team so far, Isaac is hopeful that Ivory will be with the team next season as well. Throughout the season, she has seen the encouragement that the softball girls bring to Ivory.
“It has been really great for her, they’ve really encouraged her,” Isaac said. “It has given her hope that she’s going to be able to play softball when everybody else was telling her she wouldn’t.”
Just as Ivory is finding encouragement in the softball girls, the team is benefiting from having Ivory on the team.
“It really just puts things into perspective. How can you be upset about your day when this girl has been through so much and is so happy to be alive?” Medich said. “I’ve realized my life is great and I’ve had this amazing girl with me who has been through so much more than I have and yet is still so positive and so excited to be with us.”
According to Isaac, Ivory’s struggles haven’t held her back from doing anything she wants to do.
Isaac recalls Ivory saying, “If I have to fight a little bit to be here, that’s fine.”
Photo Caption: The varsity softball team poses with Ivory Isaac during team pictures (first row) Alex Keller, Mckinly Vazquez, Meredith Lilley, Annika Wachtman, (second row) Avery Brick, Carolyn Botti, Ivory Isaac, Elena Medich, Stacy Gibson, and (top row) Eli Wachtman, Caroline Warner, Sam Good, Becca Shera and Ida Kegley. Ivory joined the team this spring.
Photo by Sheridan Hendrix
Left Photo: Ivory riding down the halls of the hospital at 3 a.m. She has had 58 surgeries in the past six years.
Center Photo: Ivory after remission in 213. She is now a six-year cancer survivor.
Right Photo: Ivory in March of 2008 during her first trip out of Children’s Hospital. She was five-years-old and excited to leave for the day. All photos courtesy Julie Isaac.