“He can’t hit the ball not on the ground” – Episode 7.38

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IyvEnvy_Color_blogpodcastOn this, the 335th episode of The Ivy Envy Podcast, we try to pick up the pieces from a 2-5 week of Cubs baseball that could have easily been 0-7. The Cubs struggles are impossible to ignore now. The offense didn’t produce but a strong performances from the pitching staff helped keep things rolling. But now, the offense is still struggling and those strong pitching performances are coming back down to earth and it hasn’t been enough to keep the losses off the board.

We discuss everything going on around the Cubs right now, from these offensive struggles to the upcoming trade deadline. We answer listener questions, Kurt gives us a scary stat of the week and we read some internet muscle flexes.

I just wanted to say “Robinson Chirinos” – Episode 7.37

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IyvEnvy_Color_blogpodcastOn the 334th, we talk about Rizzo and Bryant in the All Star Game festivities, Miguel Montero’s thumb injury and the promotion of Kyle Schwarber.

We share our predictions on the Cubs’ post-All Star break record and answer listener questions. Kurt gives a Scary Stat of the Week and we read a few Internet Muscle Flexes.

7-year-old Rock Island native and Chicago Cubs fan battles paralysis from mysterious illness

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon visited with Gregg Hampton, top right, and his sons Brennan, bottom left, and Liam, in the manager's office during the family's trip to Wrigley Field on June 12. The manager first met Liam at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in January. Liam is recovering from what doctors believe is a virus that has left him mostly paralyzed. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon visited with Gregg Hampton, top right, and his sons Brennan, bottom left, and Liam, in the manager’s office during the family’s trip to Wrigley Field on June 12. The manager first met Liam at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in January. Liam is recovering from what doctors believe is a virus that has left him mostly paralyzed. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Update, July 12, 2015: A later section of this story, originally published July 6, makes reference to a fundraiser for the Hampton family. In the final week of the fundraiser, donors contributed $7,370 for a grand total of $22,510 — enough to satisfy four of five goals, including a downpayment on a new accessible home that the family has since closed on and the purchase of a service dog for Liam. “Thank you so very much,” Gregg Hampton wrote on his Facebook wall on July 12. “We can’t express how thankful we are! … God has moved through community!”

Gregg Hampton lifted his 7-year-old son, Liam, from his wheelchair and stepped onto the Wrigley Field surface, down the dugout steps, through the tunnel and into the Chicago Cubs clubhouse.

There’s Kris Bryant. There’s Starlin Castro.

Liam’s first Cubs game on June 12 would be one to remember, and not just because of the behind-the-scenes access. It was his first major trip since being released from a 204-day stay in two different hospitals and one rehabilitation center. He’s still battling a mysterious illness that has left him mostly paralyzed.

But Liam and his family wanted to enjoy the day. They’d get back to adjusting to new challenges when they returned home to Rock Island, Illinois.

The special tour was arranged through a tweet from Gregg to Cubs manager Joe Maddon and a direct message in return.

You can help Liam and the Hampton family. Click on the fundraiser banner above to make a donation via YouCaring.com. The fundraiser ends July 11.

You can help Liam and the Hampton family. Click on the fundraiser banner above to make a donation via YouCaring.com. The fundraiser ends July 11.

Gregg had a good feeling things would work out. It wasn’t their first meeting, after all. This was a promise made good by the coach who said he’d never forget the boy when they first met on Jan. 15.

Liam wasn’t doing so great that day. He was slowly — very slowly — recovering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Doctors had removed his ventilator just six days prior, and he had only begun learning to walk again with the assistance of a leg immobilizer and helping hands.

Gregg, however, knew some Cubs players would be stopping by for a meet-and-greet in a common area on the cafeteria floor.

Liam didn’t feel up to it.

“I had to convince him, ‘This will be something you’ll be disappointed by if you don’t go,’” said Gregg, a pastor and church planner.

Liam poses for a picture with new Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in January. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Liam poses for a picture with new Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in January. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Liam conceded to the short trip downstairs. He waited for the players to arrive, his straight copper-colored hair peeking beneath a Cubs cap that was just a little too big for him. As those gathered for the event faced the main doors in anticipation of the players’ grand entry, Gregg looked to his left and spotted a spiky-haired man wearing a pair of recognizable thick-rimmed glasses.

“Are you Joe Maddon?” Gregg mouthed to the newly hired Cubs manager. The man nodded.

Gregg walked over to shake the coach’s hand and to tell him about Liam.

“He said, ‘Well, let’s meet him,’” Gregg recalled.

Maddon approached Liam and knelt down to his level, looking him in the eyes and asking him how he was doing.

“He said, ‘Liam, I’ll never forget you,’” Gregg remembers. “‘If you ever come to a game, come on down to the dugout.’”

A puzzling illness

Nurses at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago examine Liam Hampton's tracheostomy tube in January. The 7-year-old Rock Island, Illinois, native spent more than 200 days in medical facilities with what doctors believe was a virus that caused partial to full paralysis of his limbs. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Nurses at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago examine Liam’s tracheostomy tube in January. The 7-year-old Rock Island, Illinois, native spent more than 200 days in medical facilities with what doctors believe was a virus that caused paralysis. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Liam first felt sick on Aug. 21, 2014. He had a fever and a headache. He told his parents his right arm wasn’t working correctly and that he was having trouble taking deep breaths.

It was unusual for the then 6-year-old Hampton boy to fuss. He is, as his father describes, “super, super strong” — the athlete, the kid who climbed the refrigerator at 18 months because he could, the kid who would hit his head on the ground, get up and keep running.

So, when Liam complained of these pains, Gregg took him to the emergency room. Gregg said doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia and general fatigue. He was sent home. But when symptoms worsened the next day, Gregg brought Liam to the pediatrician.

Things moved rapidly from there. Liam was admitted to Trinity Hospital’s Rock Island campus that day, transferred by ambulance to the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria that night, and subjected to a battery of tests before the day was over.

Results came quickly, but diagnoses did not.

No meningitis.

No Lyme disease.

Paralysis of his right arm and left leg set in. He was hooked up to a ventilator and a feeding tube.

It wasn’t Guillain-Barre.

It wasn’t West Nile.

An MRI showed swelling in his neck and spine, likely caused by a virus.

Maybe it was West Nile. Doctor’s considered the possibility of a false negative test.

“With Liam, I think we played kind of a police detective role,” Dr. Blas Zelaya, Liam’s first pediatric neurologist, told KWQC-TV 6 reporter Gary Metivier in part of a series of reports by the NBC station.

Gregg remembers this time feeling like an episode of “House M.D.,” a TV drama that depicted rare diseases and followed the doctors who were tasked with identifying the source.

“For a couple weeks, basically, they were being like Dr. House and throwing out things that could be tangentially related that they could test for,” Gregg said. “They really exhausted anything that they thought could be related to what was happening. They landed on maybe it being a new version of the enterovirus.”

The enterovirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typically shows up with cold-like symptoms and eventually goes away. But occasionally, the virus can cause serious respiratory issues.

Gregg said doctors became interested in the family’s trip to Colorado that took place a little more than a month before Liam got sick. A number of similar cases had been reported by a children’s hospital in Aurora, Colorado. More cases soon emerged across the nation. From Aug. 2 to April 14, the CDC had counted 118 cases in 34 states. It has affected more boys than girls, and the average age of the patients was 7 1/2.

Overall, the CDC is calling the condition flaccid myelitis.

A name, though, bears no real answers, and while the enterovirus appears to be a link, it has not been substantiated as the main cause.

Less than a month into Liam’s hospital stay, his family stopped caring about the vague diagnosis and instead began to focus on helping Liam prepare for a new life.

Through tears, according to a Facebook post from Gregg on Sept. 14, one of Liam’s neurologists told the family that their son’s paralysis was likely permanent.

“It’s been a very hard time for everyone,” Gregg wrote. “Liam, who is used to running and riding and going full speed has been forced by an invisible force to stop. … On fewer occasions than you would imagine, he has been overwhelmed or upset. … He is someone I’m learning from. His faith in this trial has been nothing but gold. No chaff. Only pure.

“When in pain or scared, he simply asks us to pray for him.”

A long way from home

Gregg’s Facebook wall became a prayer book, a diary and a medical journal.

The pastor, who formed a church in Rock Island called The House — A Local Church in the summer of 2013, was discussing treatments bearing names such as intravenous immunoglobulin, plasmapheresis and peripherally inserted central catheter — words that should never apply to a 6-year-old.

More than anything, though, the Hamptons were showered with well wishes from family, friends and even strangers. People slipped them gas cards and food money to help them in their many trips to the hospital and back.

Gregg’s wife Cyndi shared in the social media updates when the couple began alternating shifts at the hospital. Their sons Brennan, 10, and Wallace, 3, and daughter, Adley, 1, were trading time between grandparents in the Quad-Cities for close to a month.

Meanwhile, Liam spent his 7th birthday in the hospital on Sept. 10. Progress was slow, but he did his best to stay strong.

Cyndi wrote of how he liked to help his nurses by holding syringes as they prepared his medications. On the day he went into surgery to undergo a tracheostomy, an operation in which a breathing tube is implanted in the windpipe, Liam mouthed to his mother, “Maybe I’ll be able to talk tomorrow.”

“I miss hearing his voice, and I miss hearing him charge through the back door,” Cyndi wrote in an update on Oct. 21. “I miss his bear hugs, and seeing him out on his bike in the neighborhood. But one thing I remain to see and experience everyday is this little boy’s encouraging, strong spirit. It’s unstoppable.”

Other days, though, were significantly harder. The mind of the once fearless climber and physical daredevil became nervous and hesitant.

“When you’re a kid, when all of your strength and body and everything you do is taken away from you, you don’t always realize how much of it is mental — knowing, believing that you can do something,” Gregg said. “When you’re 18 months old, there’s no part of your brain telling you not to climb up on the fridge.

“So at 7 years old, there’s all this physical stuff telling him, ‘You can’t do this.’ His brain was starting to tell him to believe it.”

On Nov. 12, Liam was finally transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. On Dec. 3, doctors removed his feeding tube and he began taking steps: 111 feet on Dec. 20 — 270 feet on Dec. 21.

Liam was off the ventilator by Jan. 9. Gregg started posting pictures and videos of Liam again. He was walking. He was talking, if in a whisper.

On March 5, Liam walked 1,325 feet without breaks and without help.

On March 14, Liam came home.

A subdued homecoming 

The Hampton family poses for a picture. Pictured from left are mother Cyndi Hampton, Adley, 1, Brennan, 10, Liam, 7, Wallace, 3, and father Gregg Hampton. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

The Hampton family poses for a picture. Pictured, from left, are mother Cyndi Hampton, Adley, 1, Liam, 7,  Brennan, 10, Wallace, 3, and father Gregg Hampton. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

The joy of being together again mixed with feelings of uncertainty for the Hamptons. What happened? How will Liam adjust?

“The real, true and honest thing that goes through your head as a dad is that when you left here, your kid was just a little bit sick, and you think you’ll go to the doctor for just an hour, or the hospital for just a couple nights. You don’t think it’s going to be a hundred days. You are always holding out hope that your kid’s going to walk out of there and there’s going to be a day where everything will work and you can go back to the same life again.

“Emotionally, we were going home, but everything was going to be different. … There’s this overwhelming sense that you’re starting over.”

The family did backtrack a bit, organizing a number of holiday “do-overs.” Liam went trick-or-treating with his siblings in March, knocking on the doors of neighbors who were more than happy to play along. He had a full Thanksgiving dinner and a 7th birthday party.

Family, friends and churchgoers were also there to help the Hamptons hit the reset button as best they could.

David and Robi Jenulis have known the Hamptons since they joined Gregg’s church a year and a half ago. Their son, Caden, also 7, was a friend of Liam’s.

“We’re a small church, so everybody knows everybody, and we spend a lot of time outside of just Sunday getting together with families for dinner and fun events,” David said. “So, it’s an environment where you can get to know people a little bit more and find out what it is they might need.”

Recognizing the Hamptons were in need, the Jenulis family organized a fundraiser through YouCaring.com and set out to raise $30,000 to achieve a series of five goals.

A generous anonymous donor took care of the first — a down payment on a new home — with a single $10,000 check. The Hamptons’ current home isn’t formatted to support all of Liam’s needs.

The family purchased Liam a medical bike with the completion of goal No. 2. He’s been riding bikes with his big brother Brennan again.

Goals 3, 4 and 5 are still on the table, however. The Jenulis family hopes more donors will help raise the final $15,140 (as of the morning of July 6) to allow the Hamptons to make accessibility upgrades to their new home, to purchase a service dog for Liam that can help steady him and even help him get dressed, and to cover a portion of the debt the family has accrued throughout the ordeal.

The fundraiser will close at the end of the day on July 11.

Moving forward

Today, Liam’s progress has slowed. Gregg estimates he has about 5 percent mobility of his right arm and left leg, and half of his mobility in his left arm. His right leg primarily carries the weight of his body and it, too, is short of 100 percent.

Gregg Hampton, his wife, Cyndi, and their sons, Liam, left, and Brennan were invited behind the scenes of Wrigley Field by Cubs manager Joe Maddon on June 12. Liam met Maddon at a rehabilitation facility while recovering from a mysterious illness that has left him mostly paralyzed. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

Gregg Hampton, his wife, Cyndi, and their sons, Liam, left, and Brennan were invited behind the scenes of Wrigley Field by Cubs manager Joe Maddon on June 12. Liam met Maddon at a rehabilitation facility while recovering from a mysterious illness that has left him mostly paralyzed. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Hampton)

For a few minutes that day at Wrigley Field, Liam didn’t need to worry about his condition. He soaked in the moment and enjoyed the day, even if he was a little “tongue-tied,” according to his dad.

At home, though, his parents don’t hide the reality of his illness. But they also know good days lie ahead.

“We talk with him candidly,” Gregg said. “We tell him, ‘We don’t know if you’re going to get a little better or a ton better, but we know you’re going to have an amazing life.’”

Upward Mobility Clause – Episode 7.34

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IyvEnvy_Color_blogpodcastOn this episode of The Ivy Envy Podcast, we talk about the slump the Cubs are in…you know the one where they’ve gone 5-1 in the last week. Well, the record is a little misleading. Tremendous starting and relief pitching have kept the Cubs moving forward while the offense continues to sputter.

We talk about the last week in Cubs baseball, focusing on the series with the Marlins series.

The Donn Roach era MIGHT be over as the Cubs add Clayton Richard. It’s hard to say what Richard’s future with the Cubs is, but he performed well on Saturday night in the Cubs 7-1 win over the Marlins.

We have a number of listener email to read and we discuss various topics that they bring up. Kurt gives us his Scary Stat of the Week and we read a handful of internet muscle flexes.

“Locked in on the magician.” – Episode 7.33

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7.33On this week’s episode, we discuss our joy that the Cubs’ 5-game losing streak is over, but we don’t believe one win (by a 1-0 score) is enough to convince us the Cubs have turned the corner and have worked past the issues that led to a 5-game losing streak.

Although Kurt’s not on the episode, we share some scary stats, several bad scary stats and we actually have a couple of good scary stats from the bullpen to share.

Jorge Soler is rehabbing in Iowa and although (in two games) he hasn’t lit the world on fire offensively, his production at the plate is probably not the most important thing to pay attention to. After recovering from an ankle issue, the important thing is his physical confidence.

Tomorrow starts the International Free Agency signing period. We talk about the Cubs recent history with these signings and we talk about what they might do this season.

“Like a greased razorback” – Episode 7.32

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Photo Jun 28, 10 04 23 PMWelcome to the 329th episode of The Ivy Envy Podcast. It wasn’t a great week for Cubs fans. After taking the first two games in their series with the Dodgers (against the #1 and #2 starters), the Cubs dropped the last two games in the Dodgers series and then lost the first two games in their series against the Cardinals.

We talk about some of the things that have stood out to us in the last week, including the luck of the Cardinals and our disgust in their success. We talk about some injuries, including Jacob Turner being shut down.

We have several listener questions to answer, Kurt gives us his Scary Stat of the Week and we read a few internet muscle flexes.

Jeremy Null and Cael Brockmeyer Interviews –
Episode 7.31

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TALK (2)On this week’s mid-week episode of the podcast, we have a few player interviews for you.

Jeremy Null
In this year’s Midwest League All-Star Game, Jeremy Null was named the game’s MVP. In the first half of the 2015 season, Null started 12 games and he had a 6-2 record. In 65 2/3 innings, he has 48 strikeouts and just 4 walks.

Cael Brockmeyer
Brockmeyer also represented South Bend and the Cubs organization at the 2015 Midwest League All-Star Game. In the first half of the season, Brockmeyer hit .292/.378/.438 with 5 home runs.

On this episode of the podcast, you’ll hear my conversations with both of these players.

I sure hope you said “peanuts” – Episode 7.30

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designOn this week’s episode we talk about the latest Starlin Castro shenanigans and heroics.

We talk about the 17-0 shellacking of the Indians at the hands of the Cubs. The Cubs took their series with the Twins, 2 games to 1. We talk about this series, mainly focusing on Kyle Schwarber.

We answer a handful of listener questions, Kurt gives a Scary Stat of the Week and we read some internet muscle flexes.