Wayne Latu is one of those guys whose daily dose of positive energy oozes out in BYU's football practices. His smile is a shiny row of Chiclets. His optimism knows few boundaries.
That's the way reporters found him after the Cougar running back finished BYU's Saturday practice. He paused for a quick interview before heading to the University of Utah's Primary Children's hospital where his second daughter, Amane Kina, born seven weeks premature, is battling for her life.
Amane Kina, which means "hopeful dreams" in Tongan, arrived Thursday after her mother, Mary Latu, was transported by helicopter from Provo to the University of Utah hospital.
"The little girl is just fighting for it," Latu said. "Right now the prognosis is that she will be in the hospital for three months. She has already had a couple of surgeries since she was born."
The infant, named after Wayne's sister Kina, weighed 3 pounds at birth. Her bowels developed outside of her abdomen, a complication that added to the ominous challenge of tiny developing lungs in a premature baby. Doctors have worked to enlarge the stomach cavity to re-insert the bowel. Latu admitted this is the first of many procedures his daughter must face.
"She's a fighter," he said. "She's just up there, you know, you become more of a devoted U. of U. fan when your little daughter is up there."
And with that, Latu exited. "Excuse me, I've got to run to the hospital right now."
"Everything is in good hands," said Wayne's older sister, Melba.
"The mom's doing fine, the daughter is getting treatment, Wayne went back to football practice today and his daughter is in one of the
best care centers in the word. All expenses have been taken care of and they feel blessed for that. All they need now is emotional and spiritual support."
BYU president and LDS general authority Cecil O. Samuelson is expected to visit Kina this weekend and offer a blessing on the Latu child, according to Melba.
The family crisis is an interesting challenge for Latu, who has shown a heightened positive attitude so far in his BYU career. One of the top sprinters in the state while attending Orem and Timpview high schools, he has still been one of the fastest running backs in Cougar camp the past three years. Yet, he hasn't cracked the starting lineup.
His claim to fame was a 95-yard, 15-carry, 1-touchdown performance at UNLV in 2005, a game that was well in hand for the Cougars when Latu hit the field.
Still, every day of his BYU football career his enthusiasm over the most boring practices are legend. So are his sisters, all seven of them, who can be heard screaming his direction, in rock star fashion, at scrimmages and games.
"He's just a great example to all of us of how to deal with everything," said Melba. "He's an excellent father and husband because he's had the seven of us sisters training him his while life."
A concert pianist who has toured Tonga, China, Fiji and Canada, Latu is often called upon to play for team activities or firesides. He has a studio where he currently teaches piano to 10 pupils, He also speaks Spanish and French.
"He loves football, just being out there, and he loves teaching piano and hasn't given it up yet," said Melba.
"But what he really loves is life and he's anxious, willing and faithful in living it out and getting the most out of it every single day.
"Wayne stays upbeat and positive, even when it's scary, like when his wife left in the helicopter and he couldn't go with her. He already has another beautiful daughter (Malia) and an incredible wife, Mary, and he has things in perspective."
But even for Wayne, this one is huge. Little Kina's battle is a tough one. Right now, it's a critical fight that will test every bit of Latu's sky-is-blue and everything-is-OK attitude.As football fades into the background, odds are, Latu is the man to handle this kind of fire.