Josiah Viera weighs but 15 pounds and stands just 27 inches tall, a good 8 inches shorter than the length of the average bat used by a professional baseball player. But don’t let that fool you. Josiah Viera is a true big-leaguer.
Josiah, whose name means “God has healed” in Hebrew, was born on May 25, 2004. He weighed 5-1/2 pounds, a little small to be sure, but doctors gave him a clean bill of health nonetheless. But when the boy was two months old, his mother, Jennifer Viera, knew something was wrong—her son wasn’t gaining any weight, yet his skin was getting tighter. That’s when her pediatrician suggested she consult a specialist.
The infant was in and out of hospitals his entire first year, battling various infections and illnesses, as well as visiting medical experts. Shortly after his first birthday, he was diagnosed with Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria, or, in layman’s terms, early aging syndrome. Only 1 in 4 million children are diagnosed with progeria, a disease which accelerates the aging process. That means Josiah is one of just 50 or so kids in the entire world who have the disorder. His life expectancy is between 8 and 13 years.
But his potential for a short life has not stopped him from living it to the fullest. Despite his numerous health problems, he began playing baseball in his backyard with some neighborhood pals this past year. Not too long after, he told his mom he wanted to play on a team. Jennifer obviously had concerns.
“I just wanted to make sure that he was not going to get hurt potentially in the game,” she recently said in an ESPN interview. “Prior to this all taking place, I remember distinctly one day, Josiah sitting in our living room on my mom’s lap and saying, ‘Nana, my only dream is to play baseball.’ My goal has always been in everything that he’s ever done… for however long Josiah’s with us, let him be a kid. Let him experience life. I just I knew I had to let him play.”
Virtually everyone in his small hometown of Hegins, PA was behind him. Many of them repeatedly encouraged Sam Bordner, president of the Tri-Valley Baseball League, to let him play. Bordner went to meet the little boy and simply couldn’t say no to the first question Josiah asked him. “Coach,” he began, “can I play?”
On May 5, Josiah officially joined the Tri-Valley White Sox and participated in a three-inning game t-ball game. He instructed his coaches how he liked his pitches (he preferred an underhand pitch as opposed to a tee) and made contact each time, even grinding out a single—a proud moment for sure for the sick boy who proudly stood on first base. A few days later, however, he suffered a series of mini-strokes (which were not believed to be connected to exertion). They landed him in the hospital for several days where he told nurses that he missed his teammates.
They must have missed him, too. Because on May 21, shortly after Josiah was released, they threw him a surprise party right on the baseball diamond, erupting in “Happy Birthday to You,” as the little boy made his way onto the field. But it got even better. League president Bordner asked Josiah if he wanted to play in the final three games of the season.
The heartwarming story continued to do just that. The Philadelphia Phillies, Josiah’s favorite team, learned about his remarkable situation and not only arranged for him to see them play, but also arranged for him to meet his very favorite player before the game—Ryan Howard. Howard played inspired baseball that day, going 2-for-6 at the plate.
By the time Josiah played his fourth and final t-ball game of the season, word had spread through the surrounding little leagues like wildfire. Hundreds of little leaguers showed up that night in hopes of playing alongside the boy who was suddenly a hero to an entire region. Over 1,000 fans showed up, too. They wanted to cheer him on in person. Even those who couldn’t make it to the ballpark were afforded that opportunity, as the game was such a big deal that it was covered by live radio.
Josiah Viera’s dream of playing baseball became bigger than the disease that effects his every move. And in accomplishing that dream, he inspired thousands. Thanks to ESPN, he’s now inspired even more. The network’s popular show, E:60, aired a segment on Josiah last night.
In an era when people are bullied for being different, Josiah and his teammates are an important reminder that there is still much good in this world. I encourage you to click on the ESPN story. Read every word. Watch the video, too. And when you’re done, read Fame Crawler’s story about Josiah Viera. This is a little boy everyone should know all about.
Photo: Christina Houser Photography via ESPN
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