We've all had those nights where we couldn't sleep. Typically, those nights are rare, but what if they weren't? What if it wasn't the stress or caffeine that kept you awake, but the fact that you were in severe pain? It's hard to imagine, but for seven year old Celia, this is normal.
Seven year old Celia is from Wilbraham, MA, and is suffering from Neurofibromatosis type 2. Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), is a rare genetic condition that affects the nervous system and causes tumors to develop in the nervous system. This genetic disorder strikes every 1 in 25,000 people, and signs usually develop in the late teenage years or early 20s. Unfortunately, Celia was one of the unlucky ones, and was diagnosed when she was only 4 weeks old.
At the tender age of 8 months, Celia endured her first surgery, where the surgeons had to reshape her entire skull because of the tumors that were growing inside. Losing significant amounts of blood and having to endure such a surgery, 8 month old Celia only weighed fifteen pounds.
Luckily, Celia recovered from the traumatizing surgery, and seemed to be doing well until another tumor was found. When she was two years old, Celia endured another vital skull surgery to remove the tumor and fix the other complications caused by the tumor. By the age of two, Celia had endured more surgeries and more pain than most people have to endure in a lifetime. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning.
Celia is now seven years old, and has had a total of seventeen surgeries. Remarkably, Celia is able to go to school, but often has to leave early because the pain is too severe. Her pain not only prevents her from going to school and participating in sports, but it also affects her sleep. She often wakes up in the middle of the night because her pain is so severe. Recently, Celia has something new to help carry her through the painful nights while she is awake. She has the Springfield Women's Softball team. The week prior to her draft day, when Celia was lying awake in the middle of the night, she resorted to drawing. She wasn't drawing what a typical seven year old would draw, however. She was drawing pictures of the Springfield Women's Softball team–bright images of herself and her new teammates, her new older sisters.
On February 6th, Celia and her mom met Coach Perrelli, head coach of the Springfield College Softball Team, as well as three players from the team, in the lobby of the Blake Physical Education Complex at Springfield College. Both parties were introduced through Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children facing life threatening illnesses by matching these courageous kids with college athletic teams close to where they live. Anita, Celia's mom, was referred to Team IMPACT by Shelley Leger, an Outpatient Pediatric Social Worker at Massachusetts General Hospital, while Coach Perrelli was referred to Team IMPACT by a good friend. The purpose of the meeting that day was to introduce Celia to the Coach and three of her team mates so that there were a few familiar faces on Celia's draft day - a day that she had been dreaming and drawing about.
Celia, the newest third baseman, was drafted on February 13th. Drafted with Celia, was her teddy bear, Bee. Bee was given to Celia as a gift from her brother. Bee has been through every surgery with her and never leaves her side. Squeezing Bee, while also clinging to her mom, Celia and three members from the team made their way up the stairs to the conference room, where her other team mates were anxiously waiting to meet her. Celia took her seat at the table in the front, where Bee, her mother, Coach Perrelli, and two team members joined her. Coach Perrelli started the draft by expressing how excited they were to have another strong player join the Springfield Softball family, and presented Celia with Springfield Softball gear (a visor, a t-shirt, a backpack, and a softball which was signed by her team mates). As the gear was presented to Celia, her smile could be seen from across the room, and her laughter could be heard from outside the building, as one of her sisters dressed Bee in her newest Springfield gear.
After the speeches were made, it was time for Celia to learn the team cheer that she will be performing with the team during practices and before each and every game. Celia and Bee joined the team in the circle, all lying on their bellies, while the chant echoed in the room. After taking pictures with the team, Celia's big sisters took her for a tour of the facility. Celia saw where she will be joining her sisters as they lift weights, tend to their injuries in the training room, and where they will be practicing. The shy Celia, who in the beginning, was squeezing Bee and clinging to her mom, was now walking hand-in-hand with her teammates while telling her mother to keep her distance. While Anita had tears in her eyes as her daughter was waving her off, they were surely tears of joy. She never thought that Celia would be so outgoing, and was thrilled to see her daughter having so much fun. As the tour ended in the Springfield Women's Softball locker room, a tired Celia, put on her purple winter coat to go home. It's comforting to know that even during Celia's sleepless nights, this lifelong relationship between her, the Springfield Softball Team, and of course, Bee, will continue to give her plenty of artistic inspiration to help her through the night.