By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathin Perez received a delightful surprise last week – tickets to his first Indiana Pacers basketball game.
Not just tickets for him and his parents – Evodio and Katie – but for his sister Sophia too, and his grandpa. But wait, there’s more.
Jonathin, 8, got a visit from Pacers mascot Boomer during the game, a handwritten note from Pacers President Kevin Pritchard, a signed jersey and a bag full of Pacers swag, including enough T-shirts to share with his entire basketball team.
Yes, Jonathin plays basketball too, but the game is a little different. The second-grader plays on a wheelchair basketball team.
It’s been 3½ years since Jonathin lost his right leg after an infection led to necrotizing fasciitis (also known as flesh-eating disease), then sepsis, nearly killing the then-4-year-old.
Doctors and nurses at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health saved his life from the raging infection, but they could not save his leg.
“He was on the brink of death, and we were able to pull him back from that,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ryan Fitzgerald. “If he’d been here a couple of hours later, he probably would have died.”
Despite the trauma and the long recovery, Jonathin embraces all life has to offer now. He wears a prosthetic leg to walk (and run) but uses a wheelchair when he’s on the basketball court.
Seeing his first Indiana Pacers game was a thrill for Jonathin and his sister, Sophia, who also loves the game.
The kids’ mom, Katie Wilson-Perez, said it all came about because of the kindness of a friend whom she came to know through the Necrotizing Fasciitis community when the friend’s wife passed away as a result of the disease earlier this year.
That friend talked to a friend, who talked to another friend who works for the Pacers.
The result was a night to remember.
“Words cannot express how thankful we are for the amazing opportunity that was given to our sweet boy,” Wilson-Perez said.
“The kindness of these people means so much more than they could know, and the joy on Jonathin’s face last night was worth more to us than all of that merchandise combined.”