Long before he would watch the Coastal Carolina baseball program earn a trip to Omaha and the College World Series this week, Chanticleer athletic director Matt Hogue and his family already had a significant connection to this city.
It was here nearly a decade ago that his daughter Caroline Hogue received a life-saving small bowel transplant when she was one year old. The Hogues have been back to Nebraska Medicine a number of times since, and Monday they returned with some friends.
The morning after Coastal Carolina defeated Florida 2-1 in its opening game of the CWS, the players and coaches headed to the hospital to spend time with young children who are either in need of organ transplants of their own or battling cancer.
“I’m kind of getting choked up,” Hogue had said a few days earlier while telling the story of his daughter’s successful transplant and of now being able to bring the Chants back with him. “We’ve been out here so much, and we know how to drive the area, we know a lot of folks out here now and the one piece that was always missing was to get here with the team. We’ve always talked about it. …
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“We have such a kindred spirit to this area. It’s just been one of those really cool stories and it’s worked out really well for everyone.”
Caroline Hogue is now 10 and has beaten the odds normally associated with Berdon syndrome, her father said.
It’s just one of those phenomenal stories. We really had no connection to this area. We had a couple of really good friends here ironically, but other than the pursuit of baseball getting here we never dreamed in a million years we’d learn about transplants or anything like that or much less have it become a home away from home. She’s done incredibly well. She’s 10 years old now, so she’s nine years, almost 10 years past the transplant now. It was a miracle they provided us really and we can’t say enough about the extraordinary care the serious medicine they’ve provided her.
CCU athletic director Matt Hogue
He explained that she was born with a smooth muscle defect in a variety of organs and couldn’t involuntarily move food through her intestinal tract. They researched around the country to find a medical center that handled the kind of transplant she would need, and with only a few choices they settled on Nebraska Medicine.
“Back in 2005 she was born with a lot of complications, and after probably five or six months we realized that really the only life-saving measure was a small bowel transplant,” he said. “We started researching where that could happen, and there were only a handful of places in the country that really had any sort of track record with that sort of procedure and we ended up coming here.”
Hogue’s wife, Laura, moved to Omaha with Caroline when she was seven or eight months old to be in position should an transplant become available.
After five months on the transplant list, it was her turn.
“The survivability of the syndrome in and of itself was incredibly remote and that wasn’t even supposed to happen, and she really battled through the first six or seven months. That was the hardest time because she was really fed by an IV,” Matt Hogue said. “And, I think, by a large degree, she’s really been a textbook example of their transplant program here because everything’s gone incredibly well. It’s been a blessing on both sides. For us, obviously, they gave us the gift of life, and for Nebraska Med Center they’ve got an incredible example of how their procedure and their technology can save lives really. It’s been a great partnership.”
Caroline was with the team Monday for its visit, wearing a black and teal Coastal Carolina shirt and flashing a big smile.
“Caroline had a great transplant and a pretty quick recovery and now she just finished the fourth grade, she plays softball, she’s a big Coastal Carolina Chanticleer fan and she is the bat girl for the softball team,” Laura Hogue said. “… This has been very emotional. She doesn’t remember being here for the transplant, but she remembers being here for follow-up (visits) and she knows what this transplant meant to her and our family.”
Matt Hogue gave the team the background on his family’s connection to the hospital on the bus ride over, and the players looked to genuinely enjoy the break from the grind and spotlight of playing on college baseball’s marquee stage while spending some time entertaining the kids.
This is bigger than baseball. We’re here to hang out with kids who are going through tough times and we’re here to have a great time and have fun with them. So it’s our pleasure to be here for these kids and we’re just very happy we got the opportunity to do this. Baseball’s the last thing on our minds right now.
CCU right fielder Connor Owings
The hospital set up a baseball diamond in a large open room, and the Coastal Carolina players pitched to and played catch with the kids, some hooked up to machines, who would take off running the bases with each hit.
“This is bigger than baseball. We’re here to hang out with kids who are going through tough times, and we’re here to have a great time and have fun with them,” senior right fielder Connor Owings said. “So it’s our pleasure to be here for these kids, and we’re just very happy we got the opportunity to do this. Baseball’s the last thing on our minds right now.”
Owings was a fitting ambassador. As he has discussed in detail in the past, he will one day need a transplant himself after being born with only one functioning kidney.
“It’s incredibly special and it just kind of ties it all together, that the team finally made it here and we have a chance to kind of give back and visit them. And knowing that Connor’s kind of dealing with a little bit of that too, I think it will be a special (experience),” Matt Hogue said Friday.
Matt Hogue shared his appreciation for Chants coach Gary Gilmore and the team for taking the time to give back to a place that has meant so much to him and his family.
He recalls what the hospital’s child-life program and bringing visitors and activities to the children meant to his family once upon a time.
“This is great. It’s an opportunity to some kids who are going through a rough time and their parents that I know personally are going through a rough time and have a chance for a little bit of a diversion and to meet guys, whether they were in the hospital or not, that would be heroes to them and take their mind off what they have to deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s a small way that we can reach out.”
Meanwhile, Caroline visited with Dr. Wendy Grant, the surgeon who performed her procedure, and then joined the kids in the baseball game while taking some swings of her own.
Earlier this week she spent time helping at Nebraska Medicine’s vendor tent at the stadium, handing out towels and sunscreen while doing her own part to give back.
“She loves this place, she loves this city. It’s just been over the moon for her to be able to be involved in this whole process,” Matt Hogue said.
Aside from hoping the Chants would one day get to the College World Series, Matt Hogue said he never imagined he’d develop such a strong connection to the city of Omaha, but it was special to see some familiar faces at the hospital on Monday — and to bring some as well.
“It’s just one of those phenomenal stories,” he said. “We really had no connection to this area. We had a couple of really good friends here ironically, but other than the pursuit of baseball getting here we never dreamed in a million years we’d learn about transplants or anything like that or much less have it become a home away from home. She’s done incredibly well. She’s 10 years old now, so she’s nine years, almost 10 years past the transplant now. It was a miracle they provided us really and we can’t say enough about the extraordinary care and the serious medicine they’ve provided her.”