Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2002

She’s got heart a healthy one

April 10, 2002

Basehor-Linwood senior pitcher Emily Hoffman got lucky shortly after she served up a meatball during the seventh inning of the Bobcats' 5-0 loss to Santa Fe Trail on Tuesday, April 2.

The pitch, which was delivered with the bases loaded and one out, was hit into foul territory.

The minute the ball left the bat, BLHS left fielder Lesley Hancock raced toward the fence and dove for the ball trying to make the play. She came up empty, but Hoffman said that was the kind of support she's used to getting from her teammates.

Of course, a simple dive is nothing compared to the support Hoffman received from Hancock and a handful of other teammates after undergoing open-heart surgery in August 2001.

During a routine sports physical the summer before her senior year, Hoffman's doctors discovered a hole the size of a half dollar in two chambers of her heart. The hole was increasing the blood flow from one chamber to the next, but never allowing it to escape the heart and receive oxygen.

After several tests and an evaluation by a cardiologist, doctors concluded Hoffman would have to have surgery and might miss her entire senior season of sports volleyball, basketball and softball.

Hoffman had other plans.

"I think I made the doctor kind of mad," Hoffman said. "Because the minute he told me that, I told him I was going to be ready for basketball."

As it turned out she was. Hoffman was the Bobcats' second leading scorer this season on the hardwood and the team's top three-point threat. Currently she is penciled in as the BLHS softball team's top pitcher and she owns a 1-2 record.

The irony behind Hoffman's role on the team is that she probably would not have pitched at all this season if senior Courtney Reed were healthy. Reed, an all-league pitcher a year ago, tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus in January and will most likely miss the entire softball season.

Reed's dilemma got Hoffman thinking about her own, and how she's lucky to be playing sports at all.

"They say I was born with the hole in my heart and I figured if it hadn't killed me in 17 years before, it wasn't going to kill me this year," Hoffman said. "I feel lucky to be playing sports still, but I wasn't going to let something like this stop me."

Reed said seeing Hoffman return to the basketball court a few months after being hooked up to tubes and machines at the hospital was inspirational.

"That girl's just so tough," Reed said. "I can't even believe it when I think about what she's gone through and where she's at. I mean she was pretty much dead when they had her heart out of her and now she's back playing sports. She's the toughest person I've known in any sport."

The attitude Reed is overwhelmed by is typical of Hoffman. On the basketball court, she was rarely rattled by defenders. On the mound, she barely blinks during a jam. The same was true of her time in the hospital.

During her four-day stay at St. Luke's Hospital, Hoffman said she had as many as 15 to 20 visitors a day. Most of them were friends and most of them entered the room with tears in their eyes. But even the emotions of seeing her misty-eyed friends file in one after another failed to crack Hoffman's tough attitude.

"Most of my friends are my teammates," Hoffman said. "When they came in, I was more awake and more aware, and I felt better when they were there. But I didn't cry."

Most of her friends and teammates said they felt better when they were there, too.

"I just felt that it was important to go see her when she was in the hospital so I could help take her mind off of everything," Reed said. "I think everybody was happy to go help her through it, but at the same time it was hard to see her like that she was in bad shape."

Now, Hoffman is in good shape. Every day is just like it was before the surgery, but now she knows that she is 100 percent healthy. She looks the same as she did before surgery. She has the same fire in her eyes on the pitcher's mound. And she has the same smile on her face when you even mention one of her friends.

She feels lucky to be alive, but she felt that way before. Now more than ever, she feels lucky to have had so much support on her way back to playing sports the one thing her heart has always loved.

Though Hoffman appears to have everything under control in sports, she said the support of her friends, teammates, coaches and family during her toughest battle to date made her a better athlete.

"I know my teammates always have my back on and off the field," Hoffman said. "If I throw a bad pitch, I'm confident they'll get there and make the play. That was kind of how it was in the hospital they were always there."

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