Before he was born, Matt’s story began; a story involving the support from both of his parents, Todd and Debbie, yet in very different ways.
Matt’s parents found out about his condition through a routine ultrasound in Debbie’s first trimester. According to Todd, Matt’s bladder was extremely distended. “Fluid was where fluid shouldn’t have been.” After following the doctor’s orders to go home and see if the issue would correct itself, his bladder only grew larger.
Matt was diagnosed at birth with hypoplastic kidney disease, which meant his kidneys did not fully develop within the womb, therefore, not functioning at their full capacity. Doctors determined there wasn’t enough amniotic fluid to sustain him, causing him to be born six weeks premature. Matt was born 3 pounds, 15 ½ ounces. Matt’s three weeks spent in the NICU clouded a time meant to represent celebration. “To say this time was stressful is an understatement. First child…alarms going off…colic…lack of sleep…I was working 14 hours a day. We were a mess,” said Todd.
Matt had to adhere to a fairly restricted diet and was maintained by medications for his first seven years. “Deb did an amazing job of watching his diet when he was a little older, restricting potassium, regulating salt intake, and things like that,” said Todd.
During these seven years, doctors monitored him and his kidneys. “Doctors got as much life out of them as they could and when time came that functionality wasn’t good enough, we went ahead with the transplant.” Despite the doctors’ concerns that Matt wouldn’t be able to make it out of the hospital without dialysis, the kidney transplant was the first invasive procedure concerning his condition.
The time for the transplant came when he was 7-years-old. His kidney transplant came from his very own mother. Matt, born with a passion for baseball in his blood, began playing baseball at the age of five. Due to his transplant, he took a minor break to recover but continued playing three months post-transplant.
Fast forward some years and Matt is in middle school meeting with a social worker. The social worker noted that Matt was 5-6 years out from his transplant and asked, “What did you do for your wish?” to which Matt and his family replied with, “Huh?”
“We were always under the impression that it was for critically ill children—kids that had cancer, kids who were in emergency type situations, almost like a ‘dying’ wish. So, we never asked about it because we didn’t think it was anything I qualified for,” said Matt.
The time came for Matt to choose his wish and it was no surprise what he landed on: I wish to have a batting cage.
According to Matt, he was not thinking of it as a one-day experience, but an experience that would last for years to come. “A lot of wish experiences last a day or two, and they’re no doubt incredible, but I wanted something that would impact my baseball career but also my teammates and little brother as well,” said Matt.
The installation process began and was installed in his backyard in the summer of 2004.
Once it was installed, it was immediately utilized. Matt reflects on the convenience of having the batting cage in his backyard to practice anytime he wanted to, because as a middle schooler, there are restrictions. “I didn’t have to have my parents take me anywhere to practice. It gave my entire family a lot more convenience and ease.”
Though it was granted one middle school summer, Matt used the batting cage for the following 7-8 years, the impact of his wish stretching beyond just himself. Matt and his teammates put the batting cage to use throughout his high school days. Even when Matt went off to college, his little brother, Tim, who is also a baseball fanatic, used the batting cage.
Those years of easy accessibility fed Matt’s passion of baseball. It not only strengthened his abilities as a baseball player, but it also provided quality time with his brother, teammates and especially his dad, who was a high school teacher and baseball coach. “We've often talked about how terrible all of this was, but it truly was a blessing. It taught us so much. It strengthened our marriage and relationships. You often hear a lot about things like this tearing people apart. It did completely the opposite for us. It also taught Matt not to care about what other people thought or said. It made him grow up quickly, but he grew up quite confident in who he was,” said Todd.
Matt is now 27-years-old and is currently a high school teacher, baseball and softball coach. According to Matt, now 20 years out from this transplant, he is as healthy as a kidney transplant recipient could be. “I eventually might need another transplant but it’s not happening anytime soon,” said Matt. As Matt reflects on his wish experience, he thinks of his wish as recognition for the fought he went through. “Wishes allow children to experience something they never thought possible, through means they do not have or due to their health taking that possibility away. Make-A-Wish provides periods of time where kids can forget about whatever battle they are fighting and simply enjoy life’s greatest moments.”
Matt stands on the field. As he coaches, his mom’s kidney inside him, he implements the coaching from his dad he learned all those years ago. “Having that additional time with him coaching me in the backyard made me the coach that I am today.”
Much like a home run, his story is one of victory and celebration.