Yesterday, I shared the story of Toby Foster, an 11-year-old UK fan suffering from mitochondrial disease, a progressive, incurable metabolic disorder which causes a deficit in life sustaining energy. Toby’s story should be familiar to you by now. This summer, a large blood clot has moved to Toby’s brain, making life pretty difficult for him and his family. He has a lot of restrictions, but was able to serve as Andrew Harrison’s assistant on Sunday at the Calipari ProCamp in Cincinnati, albeit in a wheelchair.
Toby was originally supposed to go to the ProCamp on Saturday during Willie Cauley-Stein’s session, but was too ill. One of Willie’s friends works the ProCamps and told Willie about Toby and how he was Toby’s favorite player. Unbeknownst to Toby, Willie decided he wanted to pay him a visit before he headed back to California this week. Toby’s mother, Amy, was in on the surprise, and last night, Willie showed up at their door. Here’s the story of the visit in Amy’s words and pictures:
Willie stayed for well over an hour. I baked brownies–Willie likes the middle ones! We hung out in the play room, talking like he’s NOT a top draft pick, NBA star. Willie’s a fan of the playroom. 🙂 The boys (Toby and Willie) decided that Wille’s more Batman, and Toby’s more Captain America, so they would make a great team. They were going to play video games, but we never stopped talking long enough for that. Willie is a great kid! He and Toby really hit it off.
Then Toby showed Willie his room. Willie was quite impressed with Toby’s Star Wars room! He was taking pictures. It was adorable. Toby showed Willie the picture of him he keeps by his bed to remind himself to stay strong. Willie was so touched that he asked to take a picture of it. What a sweetheart.
He’s such a good-hearted, regular guy. He gave us his number so he and Toby could stay in touch. They’ve already been texting each other. Shortly after Willie left, Toby was due for a shot. He was on such a high he didn’t even feel it! He is now walking through the house, breathing deeply, saying “I’m breathing in Willie’s cloud of awesomeness before it’s gone.” What a character.
Amy said that as soon as Toby’s travel restrictions are lifted, they’re going to go see Willie play in Sacramento. She also wrote me to tell me more about the visit, and said she touched by how genuinely interested Willie was in Toby’s story. Here’s part of her message:
Toby told him about how he uses cool band-aids after his belly needles, and arm shots, pretending they’re tattoos. Willie laughed about that with Toby, but then asked about his condition (mitochondrial disease) and weekly treatments, and all the needles. This 7-foot man covered in tats, couldn’t believe Toby’s strength, and all he endures with mitochondrial disease.
Especially now, with the new, giant, and dangerous blood clot, and how that has made life even more difficult and scary, Toby has so many restrictions. He’s not allowed to play contact sports, rough house, ride a roller coaster, or jump on the trampoline in his backyard. Toby always required rest and accommodation to participate in certain activities because of the energy crisis in his body. But now, things that took little energy like bumper cars and go-carts are even out, because he’s on such a high dose of medication for the clot. The risk of internal bleeding takes lots away. Willie said that learning about what Toby goes through puts things in perspective, and that it was an honor to get to spend time with him. Willie’s genuine compassion is palpable.
They also talked about the amazing, fly- through-the-air dunk in Florida. Yeah, you know the one. The “Am I really seeing this? No way!” game-changing dunk. Toby told him about the note I wrote him with the picture of that dunk. Toby keeps it taped by his bed to remind him of his strength, and that anything is possible. I loved when Willie said, “Someone else took the wheel on that one.” Amen, Willie. We know the Someone. Later, Toby showed Willie it by his bed. Toby told Willie, “You’ve gotten me through some rough times when mito was gettin’ the best of me. That made me feel stronger.” Willie was so touched that he asked to take a picture of it.
What a night! With a heart filled with as much kindness as he is tall, Willie came into our home, and forever changed the world of a boy fighting a very big battle. What an amazing young man. Toby has made quite a friend in Willie! He’s even got his number so he can stay in touch with Willie. Willie is a hero for reasons that far exceed his incredible basketball talent. I love that his stage is growing. Willie’s the kind of player that when their kids look up to him, moms can be happy with their choice in heroes.