DOWNERS GROVE – If Sofia Sanchez had her way, she would have played in the Downers Grove softball tournament that was held in her honor.
The 11-year-old Downers Grove girl had to settle for throwing out the first pitch at the tourney, dubbed Swing for Sofia, which took place Oct. 20 and 21 at several parks in Downers Grove. The tournament was sponsored by the Downers Grove Rebels.
Sofia, who underwent heart transplant surgery less than two months ago, delivered a strike when she threw the ceremonial first pitch before her team's first game at Doerhoefer Park.
As Sofia pitched, members of the opposing team stood along the third baseline holding posters that featured messages of support. Sofia led the pregame cheer before heading to the dugout to cheer on her teammates.
“She’s excited,” said Sofia’s mother, Natalie Sanchez. “She loves it. She loves softball. She just wants to be back to doing the things she did before she got sick.”
The return to the softball field was an emotional one for the mom.
“I was crying happy tears just to see her out there, to move around with the other girls and look so healthy,” she said.
Sofia’s parents reflected on the journey their daughter has been on since being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, an incurable disease that causes heart failure.
She underwent heart transplant surgery Aug. 27 at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, seven days after receiving a visit from rap star Drake.
“It feels like a dream,” Natalie said. “It’s amazing. It’s great to see everyone come out and support her."
Sofia continues to have regular checkups, take medications and wear a medical face mask to protect her immune system. If all goes well, she will return to Kingsley Elementary School in late November, her mom said.
"It really still hasn’t ended. It’s like a roller coaster,” Natalie said. “You try to be grateful for today, but sometimes it’s hard to think about the future.”
Sofia's father, David Sanchez, also reflected on the obstacles his daughter overcame to regain her health.
“We’re blessed to have her back out here and enjoying life again,” he said. “She got a second chance. It was a rough summer for us.”
He thanked God for Sofia’s return to health.
“God is good,” David said. “We prayed every night. We didn’t stop praying. The town was with us. It was just a matter of being patient and [letting] God do his work. Without Downers Grove just pulling together and rooting for her to get out of that surgery, we wouldn’t be here."
The Sanchez family will eventually meet the family who donated the heart to Sofia, he said.
“We will in about a year or something like that because they’re still dealing with that," David said. "We’ll write them and will definitely keep in touch.”
Sofia also expressed gratitude for the community support, including contributions to a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $51,600.
“I feel happy, and I want to say thank you to everybody for giving me all the support because it helped me through a lot of it," she said.
Sofia said she's looking forward to returning to the activities she loves, including softball, gymnastics, cheerleading and basketball.