Greg Hansen: Coach's new son is 'a little champion'

2010-04-21T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Coach's new son is 'a little champion'Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

I rode home from the Holiday Bowl on New Year's Eve, squeezed into the back seat of a Prius, sharing space with three suitcases and cage for little Winnie, a dog.

The El Centro to Gila Bend to Tucson route on two hours' sleep was not the best New Year's Eve I've ever had, but somewhere near Yuma I powered up my laptop and began to scroll through a blog made famous by UA associate athletic director Wendell Neal.

Neal had posted photographs of UA assistant coaches and their children on Christmas morning, all warm and fuzzy in a San Diego hotel suite. The more I scrolled, the more Arizona's 33-0 loss to Nebraska took on greater insignificance.

The image that stuck with me, the one that I kept returning to, was that of Maya Tuiasosopo, 11, daughter of UA defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo. Maya hugged her 6-month-old brother, Luke, who was dressed for Christmas in a red stocking cap. On the Oh-How-Sweet meter, it was a 10.0.

In the context of a lost Holiday Bowl, the happy children of Arizona's football coaching staff seemed to be the best story of the season.

What I didn't know then was that little Luke Tuiasosopo was a Christmas miracle. He was born on July 1, 2009, the fourth of Mike and Kathy Tuiasosopo's four children.

No wonder Maya was hugging him so closely.

"Luke was a 'bonus baby,'" Kathy says now. "We hadn't had a child for eight years, since Titus was born, but when we found out we were going to have another, we were thrilled. Luke was a full-term, healthy baby at birth."

But within 12 hours, Kathy heard a troubling cough. She suspected pneumonia, and she was right. Luke was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit at UMC, and the fight for life began.

Once at UMC, doctors told the Tuiasosopos even worse news: Luke was suffering from PPHN, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Essentially, his lungs weren't receiving enough blood, and he couldn't breathe by himself.

"The doctors told us Luke might be at the hospital for three to six months," Mike Tuiasosopo remembers. "He was hooked up to every type of machine imaginable."

This is where one of America's great charities, the March of Dimes, stepped in.

In 1999, while Mike was coaching at Utah State and Kathy was teaching at Logan High School, a March of Dimes-funded research and treatment called Nitric Oxide was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is one of many ways to help treat PPHN - to improve oxygenation in infants - and it was exactly the one Luke Tuiasosopo needed to live.

"We had two or three weeks that were really, really, really scary," Kathy says. "We slept at the hospital. Mike slept in a storage closet. But finally, Luke's lungs equalized, and we were able to go home. He is a such a fighter. He is healthy and has no developmental problems."

On Saturday on the UA mall, in front of Old Main, Mike and Kathy Tuiasosopo will serve as the 2010 Tucson Ambassadors in the March for Babies. It is both fitting and rewarding. The 5K walk, which begins at 8 a.m., is expected to draw thousands in support of the March of Dimes, and to draw awareness to the progress made by March of Dimes. (Information: marchofdimes.com/Arizona)

You shouldn't have difficulty spotting the Tuiasosopos. They will be outfitted in Polynesian leis labeled "Team Tui." More than 30 UA football players have registered to walk in the March for Babies, and some of them, including quarterback Nick Foles, have begun a fundraising drive.

Maya and her sister, Lanea, 13, launched a fundraising effort at their school, accepting nickels, dimes and pennies for the March of Dimes. Team Tui is on its way to the first victory of the season.

"This is normally not something you talk about or advertise," Mike Tuiasosopo says, "but we want to do what we can for the March of Dimes. I don't think Luke would have made it without that treatment.

"The prayers and support we've had from the football team has been amazing. We really believe God had a hand in Luke's life."

Mike and Kathy Tuiasosopo met while students at Pacific Lutheran University 20 years ago. She was a softball player, the daughter of a coach from Minnesota. He was an offensive lineman with lineage to American Samoa.

Kathy moved back to Minnesota to teach and coach but kept in touch with Mike, who had began his coaching career at a California high school. Eight years later, they married and moved to Utah. That's where Lanea was born, then Maya and Titus. And now Luke.

"We're certain there's a big plan for Luke's life," Kathy says. "We're so fortunate. He's a little champion."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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