<
>

Men's College World Series: How the Arkansas Razorbacks played a role in Brady Luke's recovery

OMAHA, Neb. -- Lisa Luke was 36 weeks pregnant when she found out her unborn son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. A surgeon told her not to Google it, but of course she had to, and she saw all the agonizing stories about the congenital disease.

But doctors told her to let her son Brady live the life of a normal boy -- to dig up worms, wrestle with his brother and have fun. Fourteen years later, Brady Luke was in the stands on Saturday at the Men's College World Series, eating snow cones and sunflower seeds and learning the "Woo Pig Sooie" chant.

Brady is an Arkansas baseball fan.

The Omaha family's love of the Razorbacks started in 2012, during another Arkansas MCWS run. Brady was 4 years old and about a week removed from his third heart surgery when a host of participating teams visited him at Children's Hospital.

The Razorbacks spent an hour and a half with Brady, chatting, coloring and playing a game the boy invented called "Elevator Races" in which the participants had to pick which hospital elevator would open first.

"The way they interacted with him, you could tell that they cared," his mother said. "They got him, I think, as a kid, and knew that maybe this was something he needed.

"After they left, he had that little pep in his step, like, 'Hey mom, here's all these big guys that play on TV and they came to talk to me and hang out with me and stuff.'"

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a rare heart defect in which the left side of the heart is critically underdeveloped and can't effectively pump blood to the body. Brady had his first surgery when he was 7 days old and another at 2½ months. Brady had some tubes in him after the third operation in 2012, and Brian and Lisa Luke tried to make things as comfortable and normal as they could for their son.

They never forgot that day the Razorbacks helped him forget about the hospital for a short time. In 2015, when Arkansas was back at the MCWS, Brady was playing baseball, and he invited the team to one of his games. The Razorbacks were a little busy in Omaha that week, but the Lukes did attend one of the team's news conferences.

Brady also has played basketball, but he deals with shortness of breath. His teammates would be on one end of the court while he was chugging down the other.

"Sometimes I feel bad because I wish he had more stamina and could push himself a little harder," his mother said. "But he does what he can, and he is happy with it. And sometimes you always ask about what-ifs, but I think we are so blessed with what we have now that those what-ifs don't really matter."

Brady's favorite player is Arkansas designated hitter Brady Slavens. They hung out for a bit during the Razorbacks' practice on Friday at a high school about a 15-minute drive from Charles Schwab Field, site of the Men's College World Series. The younger Brady is wearing a boot on his foot now -- he jumped into a shallow part of a pool flat-footed and broke his heel -- and Slavens told him he'd probably have a serious tan line when he shed the boot.

The Luke family arrived Saturday a couple of hours before the game, and Brady walked up and down the fence line trying to catch glimpses of Slavens and the rest of the team.

The Razorbacks routed Stanford 17-2. Brady Luke wasn't bored.

"Just being here is cool," he said.

The family will be watching the rest of the tournament from their home, Lisa Luke said.

She said her son has completed the three-stage repair to his heart but that there is always the possibility additional procedures might be needed in the future. Because of the medical advances for single-ventricle patients, she said she is confident Brady's prognosis for living a long life is good.

She said she wants to share Brady's story in the hopes it helps other parents dealing with sick children.

"They need to know they are not alone," she said in a text on Sunday. "There are people, random baseball teams even, that are willing to help and carry some of the weight."