Jan. 15, 2010
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they must be felt with heart."
- Helen Keller
The U.S. Naval Academy Baseball team is batting a thousand, but this time it has nothing to do with the game. Through the "Friends of Jaclyn" organization, the team has "adopted" 13-year-old Millersville resident Michael DeMaio, a brain tumor patient. The arrangement has been a win-win success.
The idea originated when former Assistant Coach Jason Ronai's wife, Krista, was diagnosed with a brain tumor while in labor with their first child. "It really hit home with us because it was in the family," explained Midshipman First Class Steven Soares, team captain. When Coach Paul Kostacopoulos, a.k.a. "Kosty," proposed the adoption, the team embraced the idea. "You could hear sniffles in the room full of 35 guys," said Steven, describing their emotional reaction.
The team met Michael for the first time when they invited him, his twin brother, Christopher, sisters Sarah and Nicole, and parents, Richard and Kellie, to a Navy football game, where the twins got to sit with the team.
A week later, in a formal adoption ceremony, the team presented the family with Navy Baseball shirts, memorabilia, and a one-of-a-kind baseball, signed by the team, for Michael. They then spent the evening playing ball, eating, and having fun. Since Navy had enjoyed a decisive victory with Michael in attendance, Steven pronounced Michael the team's good luck charm, and advised that he should attend all their games to ensure victory!
Since that night, the team has visited the DeMaios' house, attended Michael's concert and Nicole's swim meet, and talked to Michael numerous times, especially after doctor's appointments. They even helped him with his Algebra homework. "We don't do anything special," Steven said modestly; "We just play and hang out." Steven noted that Michael has really opened up to the team.
The team is as special to Michael as he is to them. "They always hang around and call me to see how I'm doing," Michael remarked. "They love being around me and my family - and we love being around them. All 35 of them are like my big brothers," he concluded, summing up his impression of the team. Michael recently presented them a handmade scroll about big brothers.
Kellie, agreed, "They are truly remarkable individuals," praising Steven and his team. "They are giving us mountains of love and magic, and it does wonders for the kids." In the Brain Tumor World, as Kellie refers to it, "We are part of a community that nobody wants to be part of," she explained. "On the other hand," she continued, "We see the very best in people."
Kellie has devoted her life to advocating for Michael and managing his health (he was born with an inoperable tectal-plate glioma brain tumor), while raising four children, and ensuring Michael has a normal childhood. Even though he has endured more appointments, procedures, medications, and hospitalizations than one can imagine, he still makes `A's in school, participates in activities, has a paper route, and socializes.
Unlike some teenagers, Michael truly appreciates all his family has done for him, professing, "My mom, dad, and siblings have always been tough, and have always helped me." He explained, "My mom is always on the case - stays calm and strong and never freaks out." Michael concluded, "She's a super mom!"
Michael is pretty special himself. Those who know him never see him not smiling; he has a positive outlook from which most adults could take an example. "He's been a trooper," admitted Kellie, "Never complained, even when going through chemotherapy. He has a heart of gold, and a gift of bringing out the best in people." For Christmas Michael asked for a cure for cancer.
Michael continues to fight his brain tumor and might get radiation in the future. Meanwhile, his Navy Baseball team brothers have built a solid foundation that will be passed down long after the players graduate.