On the way to the 2007 College Cup, Buckeyes took time to make a young fan’s day  


As the anesthesia wore off, Patrick McCarthy slowly woke up from surgery. The 11-year old turned and met the eyes of his mother, Susan, he had only one question.

“When can I be a ball boy at an Ohio State soccer game?”

“Well, the Buckeyes are here to see you,” Susan thought to herself, but kept the surprise a secret. “You can ask them yourself.”

The story begins four weeks prior to what became a lengthy hospital stay and days before Patrick’s youth soccer team from nearby Dublin, Ohio, was to serve as ball kids on the sideline for a soccer game between Ohio State and Penn State. While playing in his back yard, Patrick fell on a soccer ball and the next morning, a Saturday, he discharged blood.

His parents took him to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and hours later after multiple tests, the doctors informed the family that Patrick had been born with a ureteropelvic junction (UPJ) obstruction a blockage of the ureter from a kidney to the urethra.

A normal kidney is the size of a small fist. The CAT scan that Saturday morning showed Patrick’s left kidney was the size of a softball.

Because Patrick always had normal kidney function thanks to his healthy right kidney, the condition was never noticed. Untreated, kidneys affected with the condition slowly deteriorate and eventually die, eliminating most physically-demanding activities.

“People can live with one kidney,” Patrick said, “but…” His voice stopped.

No more soccer. No more football. No more wrestling with his brothers. Not something an 11-year old wants to hear.

“I could generally get the idea that something was wrong,” Patrick said. “But I was just really hungry because they wouldn’t let me eat anything from the moment we got to the hospital. I was just trying to understand what the doctors were telling me and my family.”

Patrick spent that entire Saturday Sept. 22 at the hospital for more tests and blood work. The next day, without him, his soccer team gathered at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium for the Ohio State game.

“We heard that one of the boys on the team couldn’t be at our game because he was in the hospital,” Frank Speth, OSU associate head coach, said. “One of the parents asked if the guys might be able to sign a ball for him or something because he couldn’t be there. When she asked if we could do that, I said, we can do one better.’”

Speth and OSU captains Xavier Balc, Eric Brunner and Casey Latchem reached out to Patrick and his family and set up a visit.

“Mom you knew,” Patrick said later laughing, “but you wouldn’t tell me!”

Laparoscopic surgery awaited Patrick Nov. 4 to have a tube or stent inserted in the ureter from the kidney to the bladder. The next day Speth, Balc, Brunner and Latchem walked into Patrick’s hospital room.

“All I could think was wow,” Patrick said.

The Buckeyes came bearing gifts. Each in turn, the OSU captains presented Patrick with a soccer ball signed by all the players, two signed team posters, a ball bag, two jerseys and a signed media guide.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Patrick said.

“We made sure they checked with the doctors to make sure Patrick could have company other than family a day after such a surgery,” Speth said. “So we got that worked out and our three captains were available, so we gathered the items to get them signed and had “McCARTHY” and No. 10 put on the back of the jerseys. Patrick wears No. 10.”

“Patrick had no clue we were coming,” Speth said. “Just watching his face light up he was so excited. Both Patrick and his brothers are soccer fans and after we talked for awhile, we made a little presentation with the gifts. Each time the guys handed him something, he just got more and more excited.”

“Here’s a kid who just got out of surgery 24 hours ago and can’t get out of bed, but it just generated that smile. What was neat about it was that here Patrick meets these Buckeye captains and then we finish the season strong and he gets to watch these guys on TV thinking, I know those guys.’ The timing was neat.”

Brunner, a first-team All-American last season, played in the Dublin Soccer League just like Patrick before attending Scioto High School. He is now living his dream of playing Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls, but he will never forget that visit to see Patrick.

“It was a great feeling to see so much emotion on Patrick’s face,” Brunner said. “That was the greatest joy in what we did and to be able to surprise him and ease some of the pain he was going through. Hopefully that helped him get though it.”

“We were so impressed,” Susan said. “They asked Patrick questions and talked with him for a long time.”

“I think he actually said he forgot about the pain when we were there,” Brunner said. “His mind wasn’t on being in a hospital. That’s for sure.”

The basketball Buckeyes also heard of Patrick’s long hospital stay and sent him a card signed by the entire team, including head coach Thad Matta.

Patrick missed a total of 15 days of school from the surgeries and when he did return, his friends carried his books and backpack for weeks.  Because the condition was caught soon enough, Dr. Rama Jayanthi at Nationwide Children’s Hospital was able to save the affected kidney instead of removing it altogether.

Thanks to the Buckeyes’ long NCAA tournament run last season, Patrick was able to come to Ohio State to watch the Buckeyes take on defending national champion UC-Santa Barbara Dec. 2 in the Sweet 16.’ The Buckeyes overcame a two-goal deficit to win, 4-3.

Because Patrick was awaiting a second surgery Dec. 7 to remove the stent, he was not able to be a ball boy despite his constant pleading, but he still yelled as much as he could from the stands.

“I remember they won and it was really cold,” Patrick said of the OSU victory. “I remember Xavier scored twice.”

Patrick and his teammates kept watching the Buckeyes on television all the way to the national championship game.

“That team was so good,” Susan said. “And a lot of people in Dublin knew of Eric, so that was really neat that he was one of the players who came to see Patrick.”
The Buckeyes’ run to the national title game will not soon be forgotten by Patrick.

“I remember they were tied 1-1 in the last game and they were playing very well,” Patrick said of Ohio State’s 2-1 loss to No. 1 Wake Forest Dec. 16 in Cary, N.C. “And then the ball went out of bounds but they still counted the goal!”

Rooting for the Buckeyes runs in Patrick’s family. His grandfather has a basement full of OSU memorabilia, including signed footballs from all seven of the Buckeyes’ Heisman Trophy winners.

“Patrick and his brothers knew the OSU fight song before they could talk,” Susan said.

And it is not just Ohio State athletics that is on Patrick’s mind.

“I really want to get good enough grades to go to Ohio State and then be a doctor,” Patrick said.

As painful as the loss was for the Buckeyes and their fans in the national title game, it would be nothing compared to the disappointment a young boy like Patrick would suffer if he were not allowed to play the game he loves.

With the signed soccer ball and poster are proudly displayed in his room, Patrick has been cleared to resume all activity. That includes being a ball boy at an Ohio State soccer game, which will happen next Tuesday, April 29, when the Buckeyes take on the Columbus Crew in the FirstMerit Bank Connor Senn Memorial Game.

And the Buckeyes will be there waiting to greet one of their biggest fans.

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By Tim Stried, Ohio State Athletics Communications