It’s been phenomenal. I really feel like my daughter is back. —Yannie Sorensen
PROVO — Emily Sorensen’s blond curls spilled out from under her newly-acquired autographed BYU batting helmet as she waved two blue pompoms and cheered for her softball sisters.
“I’m trying to put into words how it’s been,” said her mom Yannie Sorensen. “It’s heartbreaking for me to see just how down she was, how much of a hard time it was. So for me to see her energy and her excitement come back, it’s been fantastic. It’s been phenomenal. I really feel like my daughter is back.”
Thursday night capped six months of anticipation for 6-year-old Emily, who deals with cystic fibrosis, an incurable genetic disorder of the lungs that results in difficulty breathing and frequent lung infections.
Well, she signed a letter-of-intent with BYU's softball team. The moment was made possible by Team IMPACT and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a six-year-old charity that pairs children with life-threatening or chronic illness with college teams. In that time more than 1,200 children have been connected with about 450 colleges in 46 states.
When Yannie Sorensen saw a Facebook post about Team Impact, she wasn’t sure it was legitimate.
“It sounded too good to be true,” she said. “I thought there had to be a catch. But I sent out the application anyway.”
Emily hoped to find a team at BYU.
“She’s a very stout BYU fan because grandpa works here,” Yannie said.
When they made the request, they were told Team IMPACT had never approached the LDS Church-owned school in Provo.
A few weeks later, Yannie and Emily were on their way to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for a check-up when they got the call that the Cougar softball team wanted to “draft” Emily.
“It was in March,” Yannie said. “It was really good timing, because we found out at the check-in that she’d have to do a 10-day hospital stay.”
While Emily dealt with lengthy sometimes painful treatments and a sinus surgery, they did a little research on her future team.
“It was perfect timing because during those 10 days in the hospital, she had that to look forward to. We actually looked at the roster and she found out there is another Emily on the team.”
Emily said she loves cheering for her softball sisters.
“It felt good, interesting,” she said of how she felt when she got the news. “I felt curious at first.”
She said she loves being a part of the program because “they are cheering for me.”
So she returns the favor.
“I hope that we win tonight,” she said, cuddling her stuffed Cosmo the Cougar. “I’ve seen a lot of softball games and it’s my favorite sport.”
Before Thursday’s game against Snow College, Emily signed her name on paperwork that makes her an honorary member of the team as part of Team IMPACT Cystic Fibrosis Project “Draft Day” Sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. To participate, teams are asked for a two-year commitment, but Yannie said the Cougars have already offered love and support to Emily.
“She calls them her team sisters,” Yannie said. “It has really made a difference for her. ...Since she’s gotten on the team, you know, she knows that if she’s having a hard time we can contact the team and be like, ‘Hey could you send some positive thoughts?’ And they’ll come and hang out with her, play at the park.”
Some of the players even came to a little pool party (with a blow-up pool) Emily had at her house over the summer.
Because of the players' compassion and friendship, Emily has a reason to endure lengthy, sometimes frequent and painful lung treatments.
“With treatment, it’s helped her because now she’s doing it for her team,” Yannie said. “It’s given her motivation to stick with her treatment, even though it’s hard.”
As much as the team has enriched the lives of the Sorensens, the players said she’s had an impact on them. Coach Gordon Eakin brought the opportunity to his players, and they said it was a unanimous yes.
“It’s been awesome,” said sophomore outfielder Rilee Jensen. “She’s such a blessing in our lives. When we’re having a bad day, she just always happens to show up at the right time to pick us up and love us when we don’t love ourselves. It’s pretty awesome.”