Serendipity and the BYU Basketball Team

Feb 14, 2021

As we neared the end of our Arizona trip last month, we drove from Phoenix to St. George on Sunday. Since Sunday is religious, sacred day for us, we wanted to do things that would help us worship, even while we were in our car. Mike downloaded several religious podcast episodes, including an interview with Mark and Lee Anne Pope (the head coach for the BYU basketball team). The interview aired more than eighteen months ago, but Mike knew it would be of interest to our kids since it involved BYU basketball.

We ended up loving the episode. Mark and Lee Anne Pope were so fun and genuine and inspiring. Little did we know that in just a couple short weeks, we would be meeting them in person . . . 

But before I get into that, let me say that I know it can be hard when you're wondering how someone is doing and you don't want to bother them but it's also been awhile since there has been any kind of update so you're worrying what that might mean. I can totally empathize with that feeling. It's one of the reasons why I try to be fairly consistent with sharing the latest. But it's been several days, and I'm sorry if that has caused anyone concern.

For us right now, a lack of updates just means that very little has been happening. It takes time to put a plan into place, and so we're just trying to hang tight while things come together. 

This is not without its worries. Because of Aaron's fragile state, Mike and I both feel like we are on high alert all the time, which is very exhausting. For example, yesterday Mike was at the grocery store. When he got home, Clark met him in the garage: "Dad! Dad! Come inside quick! Aaron . . . " [Mike's heart started to race as he rushed inside] " . . . Aaron got a huge box of stuff from his friends" [Long exhale]. 

Aaron had an appointment on Thursday. His platelets were at 3, but the doctors still wanted to hold off transfusing him because of his antibodies. When he was diagnosed the first time, he received regular platelet transfusions (anytime he dipped below 10). This gave us periods of reprieve when we could breathe a little easier before they dropped down again. But this time, we never get that because they're not going to transfuse him unless he starts to bleed.

When he was at his appointment, Mike asked the doctor, "Is there a number where his platelets are so low that it becomes dangerous to not have a transfusion?" "Oh, he's already there," his doctor answered, which was not the least bit reassuring and confirmed all of the anxiety we've already been feeling. 

In the midst of all of this though, we had an unforgettable experience this past Monday. 

When Aaron was in the hospital, the child life specialist came by one day with an offer from the BYU basketball team. They wanted to invite a family to one of their home games, and she thought Aaron would be the perfect candidate since she knows what an absolute die-hard fan he is.

Somehow, miraculously, the BMT team gave their okay on this. They've banned pretty much every other activity, but maybe they realized how much Aaron's soul needed this. 

The way the whole night came together was something of a miracle as well. We were originally supposed to go to a game at the end of February, but then the Gonzaga game came up, and they asked if we could go to that one instead. At that point, Aaron was still in the hospital and things were up in the air, but we said we'd try.

Aaron met the entire team on a zoom call a few days before the game. He has always been a fairly quiet kid, but this was accentuated by also being slightly starstruck. I don't know if the team came away from that conversation knowing how excited Aaron truly was.

We looked forward to it all weekend. It was like this little bright spot on the horizon. Then on Monday, I took Aaron to the hospital for labs. The results were not good: Platelets were at 2, white blood count was at 0.7 (with neutrophils coming in at a whopping zero), and hemoglobin was also falling. As I already mentioned, they didn't want to transfuse Aaron, but with counts so extremely low, I didn't know how we could risk a trip to Provo where we'd definitely be around other people and it would be a very late night (the game didn't even start until 9:00). But again, the doctors said to go ahead. So we did.

We left Clark and Ian with Mike's parents, and the rest of us went to the game. Being back on campus always floods me with happy memories. Not being much of a sports fan, I went to (maybe) one basketball game during my entire four years (I honestly can't remember), but between devotionals, performances, and graduations, I actually spent a lot of time going to other things in the Marriott Center. 

We arrived an hour before the game and were met by the executive assistant, Natalie. The first thing she handed to Aaron was a signed basketball from the team. We got our VIP passes for the game, and then she gave us a private tour of the annex. We walked through the gym, snack bar, conference rooms, game room, and Coach Pope's office. In one of the rooms, there was a life size poster of Matt Haarms stretched out on the table. Natalie rolled it up and handed it to Aaron. 

Then we went to the practice court where the boys shot some baskets. Aaron was not at the top of his game for obvious reasons and repeatedly missed his shots. Then Bradley stepped up to the free throw line and sunk it on the first time. To be honest, having Aaron jump around and be a target for bouncing balls was a little too nerve-racking for Mike and me, so we called it quits before it went on for too long.

Natalie took us through the tunnel to the arena. We emerged on the floor, and she showed us to our seats. They allowed 200 spectators for the Gonzaga game, but each group of people was separated by many rows and seats, so we felt like we were in our own little bubble. 

On our row, we found more surprises: individual treat bags as well as a big bag filled with all sorts of swag--shirts, masks, hand sanitizer, BYU fudge and mint truffles, and lots of paraphernalia for cheering. 

About ten minutes before the game started, Aaron touched my arm and said, "Look, Mom!" I looked up at the jumbotron and saw a video that Mike put together many years ago when Aaron was just a baby. He spliced together clips of Aaron to go along with the BYU fight song. I guess Mike's dad sent it into them when he heard that we were going to the game. I'm sure everyone else in the arena wondered why this random home video was being shown, but it was pretty special for us.

Coach Pope's wife, Lee Anne, came over before the game started. I kind of already felt like I knew her since we had listened to the podcast episode a couple of weeks before. She was just as nice in person as she had seemed in the interview.

Finally it was time for the thing Aaron was most excited for: the actual game. Gonzaga is the #1 college team in the nation right now, so we didn't have high hopes for BYU to pull out a win. They played well though, but Gonzaga got a ten-point lead in the first three minutes, and BYU could never catch them after that. 

At half time, Cosmo and two cheerleaders brought over cougar tails (long maple doughnuts). Aaron wasted no time diving into his (#steroidappetite). Since the game was broadcast on ESPN, several people texted us pictures of us on camera, which was kind of fun. 

By the time the game ended, it was after 11:00 pm, and I was feeling it. But Natalie said we could come down to the floor, and if we wanted to wait around for a little bit, we could meet Coach Pope and the team. We knew this was the only time we were ever going to get this chance, so we waited.

Coach Pope came out with BYU's president and vice president. He elbow-tapped Aaron and then asked, "Well, Aaron what did you think of the game?" Aaron answered candidly, "I don't know if this is a compliment, but I actually thought it was going to be worse." Coach Pope was so friendly and immediately put Aaron at ease. Then he asked, "Do you guys want to come back to the locker room and meet the team?"

If Aaron was starstruck before, it was nothing to what he was once he was in the locker room surrounded by the team. Coach Pope whispered to Aaron, "Who did you enjoy watching the most tonight?" Aaron looked around the room and I could tell he was having a hard time choosing just one, but eventually he said, "Trevin Knell." Coach Pope immediately called Knell over, and we got the full story for a nickname of his that we had noticed on one of the whiteboards in the annex.

We were just about ready to leave when Coach Pope said, "There's just one thing I would change about your family." He pointed to the boys' shoes. "You're all wearing Under Armor, and we only wear Nikes, so you give me your shoe sizes, and we're going to send you some Nikes instead. Is that okay?"

As we left the Marriott Center, we were all flying so high. I know you didn't need a minute-by-minute recap of our evening, but this is something our family will remember forever, and I wanted to have a place where it was recorded. 

For a boy who loves BYU with all of his heart and soul, this was the experience of a lifetime. He met some of his heroes, was given the royal treatment, and got to do some things he'd only ever dreamed of. It's kind of hard for me to reconcile it in my head because I can't deny that this is something he will remember for the rest of his life. He will look back on it with great fondness and happiness. And yet, he would never have had it if he hadn't been sick,  There's the rub. As nice as this experience was, we would have let it go in a heartbeat if it meant Aaron was healthy. 

Sometimes I get weighed down by thinking of all that Aaron is missing. This week we met with all of his teachers to figure out a plan for the rest of the year. They were so kind and accommodating, but tears just streamed down my cheeks when we got to Aaron's band teacher. Playing his trombone with the jazz band is one of his great loves, and it hurts to see him stripped of this joy for a time.

Although this experience at BYU couldn't make the bad things go away, it eased the pain of them for a moment. The transplant road is a long one, but it will not be without its joyful moments. We learned that last time, and this experience proved that it will be true once again. So we will take each spark and glimmer and sunburst and treasure them. They are paving the way to an even brighter future.


  1. Thanks for sharing the details of this amazing experience

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  3. I don’t know your family except through Instagram but I think of Aaron often and I pray he will be okay very soon. Courage to all of you. 💕💕💕

  4. Happiest tears! I’m so glad you all got to experience this special, joyful evening together.

  5. Thank you, Amy, for writing this post! Aaron as well as the rest of your family are in my thoughts and prayers so much of the time. I look forward to updates whenever you can do so. With love, Grandma Jones

  6. Love these details. Especially Clark announcing the arrival of gifts. Who else? 😆

  7. Thanks for writing this (and yes, I've been worried but not wanting to pester you!). That sounds like a wonderful opportunity. If Max ends up having to donate more marrow, I hope he remembers this as a consolation (not that he needs it, but it's a big ask).

    And I had to laugh at your boys in their shorts in Utah in February. We had some snow here in Seattle and I've basically hidden under the bed until it went away, but you folks are made of tougher stuff.

  8. Loved hearing about this. Praying for you guys. Rise and shout!

  9. I loved reading this post. I'm so glad Aaron had this awesome experience. I hope the memory of it will help him get through the rough road ahead. -Bethy


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