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Chance’s Champs: Heart of a Champion

Posted: 6:49 PM, Jul 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-23 19:29:48-04

The success of a champion. It’s not measured by wins, losses, or trophies. It’s measured by heart. And it’s there where Stevie Wisz’s story begins.

“At her one-year check-up, our pediatrician heard an irregular heartbeat,” Stevie’s mom Melissa said. “That same exact day, he sent us up to San Luis Obispo to see a pediatric cardiologist and that’s where we learned she had heart disease and the whole whirlwind started.”

At a year old, doctors diagnosed Stevie with aortic stenosis, the narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve. It was news her parents weren’t ready for, especially after suffering family tragedy just a month and a half prior.

“We had a son that passed away that was treated at the same place we found out Stevie had heart disease, so being in the same hospital and hearing that we have to go through another round of heartache, it was super hard,” Melissa explained.

Stevie fought through her condition during childhood, needing checkups every three months, but in 2007, at the age of nine, Stevie underwent her first open-heart surgery at the UCLA Medical Center to clean out her aortic valve.

“I think just being so young and naive, I didn’t really understand how big of a deal it was until I got to the hospital,” Stevie said. “That’s when I broke down and got a little scared.”

The surgery was successful, but doctors noticed a hole in Stevie’s heart and that she also suffers from heterotaxy syndrome where she lacks the normal amount of entrances and exits to her heart.

“Her hands and feet are always cold,” Melissa added. “That was rough to hear.”

A year later, Stevie was rushed back to UCLA for an immediate pacemaker procedure after a 24-hour monitor showed scary signs of her heart slowing down.

“It would stop for up to nine seconds at a time while she’s sleeping,” Stevie’s dad Steve said. “If you sit and count nine seconds without a heartbeat, it’s an extremely long time.”

Doctors advised Stevie to stop playing her favorite sport, soccer. It was just too much running for her heart to handle. But with the loss of one passion, came the love for another.

“I’ve always loved softball,” Stevie exclaimed. “I love how its both a team sport and an individual sport. I just went with it and ran.”

Stevie attended Righetti High School and roamed the outfield for the Warriors softball team, but life came to a halt the summer before her sophomore year when she had her second open-heart surgery, this time, to replace her aortic valve.

“It took a toll on me mentally just knowing that I would never be able to be the competitors they were physically just because of my heart,” Stevie said.

It was a tough year but this Warrior recovered, and she helped guide Righetti to the 2013 CIF championship, capturing its first title in 31 years.

Life came full-circle in the fall of 2015 when Stevie started college at the exact same place her life was saved three times before.

“Yeah, I always knew that UCLA would be close to my heart and I was meant to be there whether it be for my hospital visits or school or softball,” Stevie added.

After a few months in Westwood, her heart was set on playing softball for the Bruins.

“I emailed the coaches several times, and it wasn’t until the 30th email that they got back to me. I was finally given a tryout,” Stevie said.

“To hear the story of someone walking on at a school as prestigious as UCLA, it’s pretty much unheard of,” Melissa added.

Stevie not only made the team but became one of UCLA’s primary pinch-runners and outfielders.

Her time in the blue and gold flew by, and after three years, her heart seemed to be holding up just fine, but during a visit with a new doctor down the road at USC this past January, there were major concerns of Stevie playing her senior season and having surgery instead.

“In her plan, it was going to throw a big wrench into things,” Stevie said.

It may seem like a tough decision for most, but Stevie’s mind was already made up. “I was just like, ‘Look, I’m not going to have it in a week. We’re going to compromise and I’m going to put it off until after my senior season unless something bad happens and I need to have it before.'”

Stevie agreed to dial back her participation. And as it turned out, postponing surgery was a championship decision.

“I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was so happy,” Stevie said. “It was in that moment when I realized all of our hard work and everything leading up to that point had paid off.”

“To be able to go there and see our daughter on the field, especially after everything she’s gone through, I was speechless,” Melissa added.

Her story garnered national attention, with spots on ESPN, CNN, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. She used her platform with hopes of inspiring others.

“I just wanted to help people realize how much they can achieve and overcome despite their circumstances or whatever situation they’re in,” Stevie explained.

She even threw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game to closer Kenley Jansen, who has also dealt with his own heart issues.

Stevie was honored to meet Kenley and his wife. “They’ve been supporting me this whole time. I’m just so grateful and thankful for them in my life.”

A few days after the championship, Stevie graduated with her degree in Biology. But once the celebration ended, there was still one more base to clear before heading home.

“I didn’t cry at her graduation or anything because at that point I was already getting in survival mode,” Melissa said.

“It was hard, but just knowing that I was going to be okay and in the hands of the best doctors, I was able to manage my emotions,” Stevie added.

On June 21st at USC, Stevie had her third successful open-heart surgery. She underwent the Ross procedure, in which her pulmonary valve was moved to the location of her aortic valve, and a new pulmonary valve was implanted from a donor. The surgery is said to last 20 years.

Stevie is now recovering at her home in Orcutt, surrounded by those who have been by her side since the beginning.

“I couldn’t have gotten to the point where I am today without them and without their constant love and support,” Stevie said. “Being tight-knit and knowing everything is going to be okay, it got us through it.

The heart of a champion. It’s not measured by wins, losses, or trophies. It’s measured by heart, just ask Stevie Wisz.

“I truly believe that everything is meant to happen the way it happens,” Stevie said. And this was how my life was supposed to go.”