Winston-Salem Dash – ‘Home Run for Life’

The joy of children is contagious, especially at a baseball game. You can see it in their eyes – the anticipation of catching that home run ball that clears the wall, the excitement of seeing a home team player slide in safely. From the beginning of the Winston-Salem Dash team and organization, children have played a role, from being the most dedicated fans to being honored throughout the season in the ‘Home Run for Life’ program.

Dash media relations and broadcast assistant Dave Polaski explains the idea behind the effort. “The Winston-Salem Dash and Wake Forest Baptist Health wanted to recognize some incredibly brave individuals who battled through some serious health issues. This was a unique outlet for those individuals to know that the community is, and will continue to be, behind them through their journey.” Aside from being honored on the field, running the bases with high fives from the Dash players, as well as the visiting team, ‘Home Run for Life’ participants receive a personalized bat that is signed by the entire Dash team, a certificate commemorating their day at BB&T Ballpark, free tickets to that day’s game, complimentary Carolina Plan food and drink vouchers, a newspaper article about them in the Winston-Salem Journal and a photo that appears on the cover of that day’s PlayBall game program. There’s no doubt that everyone has a story and these kids are no different…

Pablo Valladares-Mendez
Near the end of his eighth-grade year, Pablo started getting pain in his shoulders and upper arms, which he initially thought was due to just sleeping wrong. But after his condition worsened, Pablo couldn’t feed himself. After many tests at Brenner Children’s Hospital, physicians determined he was afflicted with juvenile dermatomyositis. Pablo continued to make weekly trips to Wake Forest Baptist Health, where he received steroids to treat his muscle weakness and medications to regulate his blood pressure. Although he is not out of the woods yet, Pablo makes doctor visits every 6 months, exercising on his own to maintain his strength. At some point the disease may simply go away, but he continues to live with the threat of its return. Despite that, Pablo has not stopped living life to its fullest. Now 16 years old, he is regularly playing the saxophone again. Through it all, Pablo has maintained a positive attitude. “Whenever something happens,” he says, “God always does things for a reason. No matter how bad the situation is, you always have to keep looking forward and never look back.”

Landon Garcia
At 16 days old, Landon Garcia was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and now at the age of 7, struggles for each breath. Landon’s daily treatment begins as soon as he awakens, lasting from morning until night. Nebulizer sessions, chest physiotherapy, and over 20 pills, steroids and enzymes to help process food are all part of the daily process for the Winston-Salem native, a first-grader at Bolton Elementary School. With regular visits to Brenner Children’s Hospital’s Cystic Fibrosis Clinic, Landon continues to battle the disease. But Landon doesn’t let his condition get him down. The seven year old UNC fan loves to play kickball at school. Landon has been through, and continues to go through, so much, but his outlook is simple. “If you had cystic fibrosis, you would have a lot to work on, but I try my best every single day,” says Landon.

Zach Felts
When Zach Felts was 6 years old, a simple game of football led to the fight of his life. In October 2009, as Zach played football with other kids, he began limping after a pileup. The Morganton, NC native was diagnosed with a broken leg and fitted with a cast. The trouble continued for Zach, as he started losing weight and became extremely fatigued. A hard lump developed on his ankle and a biopsy returned a grim diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Zach had stopped walking and had to rely on his family to be carried everywhere. Zach went to Wake Forest Baptist Health and Brenner Children’s Hospital in January 2010, receiving blood and platelet transfusions. After several times where Zach’s family prepared for the worst, Zach responded to multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Now, nearly five years after beginning his battle, Zach’s treatment is scheduled to end in August and he will be considered in remission and cancer-free.

These three young individuals and their families have battled a lifetime of heartache, but through their stories we see the triumph of the human spirit and appreciate life a little more than we did.