When Amy Grazioso was pregnant with her son Tyler, now 12, she knew there was a chance he would be born with cystic fibrosis. Within his first two weeks of life, the diagnosis was confirmed.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease in which a thick and sticky mucus builds up in the organs, including the lungs. When this mucus plugs the airways, it makes breathing difficult.
“It was really difficult at first because he was so little, but CF has become a part of our routine and daily life,” said Amy. “He still struggles with the fact that he’s not ‘normal’ and that he has to do things other kids don’t have to do.”
Tyler does breathing treatments a minimum of twice a day, more if he’s sick. He has been coming to CHoR, home to Central Virginia’s only Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Accredited CF care center, since he was a baby and continues to take many medications to manage his CF. One benefit to becoming a “frequent flyer” at CHoR is that he’s gotten to know his doctors and nurses really well – so well that they know what an avid sports fan he is. Tyler’s nurse Maridel nominated him for one of CHoR’s VCU basketball camp scholarships and he had the opportunity refine his skills on the court, make new friends and meet VCU basketball players.
“He attended the basketball camp for the past four years and loved it,” added Amy. “When he plays basketball and forgets about his pills and breathing treatments and doctor’s visits, he gets to feel like a normal kid. That’s what it’s all about.”
Tyler’s connection to the VCU Rams team didn’t stop there. Tyler’s social worker told his mom about Team Impact, a non-profit that provides children with illnesses the opportunity to connect with college athletes and coaches.
Although there was no guarantee Tyler would be matched with a basketball team, the die-hard hoops fan lucked out and was named a Team Impact recruit with the Rams. He spent one-on-one time with head coach Mike Rhoades on recruit signing day and had several more opportunities over holiday break. He took part in practices and game day rituals, including pre-game dinners, warm-ups and the games themselves.
Tyler is inspired by NBA star Kyrie Irving and has transitioned from a Cleveland Cavaliers fan to a Boston Celtics fan out of loyalty to his favorite player. He even dreams of a career in the NBA himself one day.
“We come to clinic and we’re worried about his weight and his PFTs (pulmonary function tests) and he’s more worried about how tall he is,” laughed Mom. “He measures his height on his wall to see how tall he’s getting.”
While the seventh grader has no visible signs of illness to the average person, those close to him know that it’s an ongoing battle that he fights on a daily basis. According to his mom, Tyler’s disease doesn’t stop him from accomplishing his goals and if there’s something he wants he’ll work for it.
“Basketball is his life. When he wasn’t giving 100% in school we threatened to take basketball away. Next thing we knew, he came away with the honor roll,” said Amy. “I’m ecstatic that he has this opportunity with Team Impact. Not many people get to experience what he’s going to experience with these players.”
It just so happens that the Graziosos were already VCU Rams fans, making this opportunity that much sweeter for the entire family.