The jersey No. 19 on Maryland softball is reserved for Marisol Ramirez, a 16-year-old fighting a rare disorder. Due to a series of hospital stints this year, she’s had trouble attending games. But the Terps’ loss to Penn State on Sunday marked the first game of the year she visited.
When she went to the dugout afterward, Ramirez’s connection with the team shined.
“It was a very sweet moment, they were very excited to see her,” coach Julie Wright said. “She’s pretty quiet, but the girls know how to pull it out of her, so it was a fun reunion down there in the dugout.”
Last year, Ramirez signed with Maryland through the nonprofit Team IMPACT, which pairs children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses with collegiate teams. After dealing with a series of surgeries, Ramirez’s transplanted organs were damaged. When a social worker discovered that Ramirez’s favorite sport was softball while at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the Laurel native was matched with the Terps.
Before the 2016 season, the Terps held a press conference to welcome Ramirez to the program. She received a jersey and a locker while signing her national letter of intent.
“Well, I try not to be a crybaby,” Ramirez’s mother, Ingrid, said. “It was special, it was really special. Just knowing that she’s part of something so big and so important.”
Maryland has offered support remotely and in-person. Ramirez attends College Park Academy, and during the week, players take her to Rita’s Italian Ice, on tours of the campus or just hang out with her.
“Especially when she’s in the hospital, they’re reaching out to her, sending her care packages,” her mom said, “always checking in on her.”
The team also became involved in a social media push in September to find tickets for 5 Seconds of Summer, Ramirez’s favorite band. While she was unable to accept a ticket offer from a fan, the act made Ramirez feel special.
Ramirez was born with jejunal atresia, a condition where the small intestine is blocked. After surgery to remove that portion of the intestine, she was diagnosed with short bowel syndrome and required a transplant. In 2009, Ramirez received a new liver, pancreas, small intestine and colon. But less than a year later, she was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, and while she conquered the cancer, the chemotherapy harmed her transplanted organs, and she remains on the transplant waiting list.
“She’s the toughest kid I’ve ever coached,” Wright said. “She’s been through a lot, as all the Team IMPACT kids have. I’m just impressed with her. She handles herself so well and she’s such a great young lady, great personality, we enjoy her a lot. We haven’t seen her in a while so it was really wonderful to have her here [Sunday].”
Through the battles, Ramirez keeps a positive attitude. Her family must be ready to drive to Pittsburgh at any point, knowing there is only a certain amount of time for the transplant to take place.
Her family is training their dog, Kuzko, as a service animal to help her with her anxiety from spending so much time in the hospital.
Watching the Terps play Sunday offered Ramirez her first opportunity to go out in what her mom called a “rough year.”
“It felt good to do something normal and see people that she really cares for,” her mom said. “She’s in the hospital so much that socially she doesn’t have too many friends. So, it’s like they’ve … taken her like their little sister.”