There's a saying in the medical community, that when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras. Meaning, focus on the more likely possibility when making a diagnosis. But in Emma Bozarth's case, she is the zebra, so to speak.
"Just being sick is an obstacle, but this year I've had a very good year so I'm thankful for that. Most years, I miss a few practices and maybe some games," Bozarth said. "But this year I haven't missed any so that's good."
The Macomb High senior is one of only about a quarter million people nationwide that has a primary immunodeficiency disease, or PIDD. Caused by defects in the body's immune system, it makes her more susceptible to illness, and requires plasma treatment every three weeks. So, just like the zebra is unique for its stripes, this is where Emma has her stripes. She faces challenges in everyday life, but that's where softball comes in.
"Softball has always been my go-to. If I had a bad day or I had to go to the doctor, throwing the ball around or hitting have definitely helped me get through what I have to go through on a daily basis," Bozarth said.
For the fourth straight year, Emma has turned her love for the game into awareness for PIDD. With the theme of, you guessed it, zebra stripes. The Bomber community joined Emma on Saturday in raising awareness for a good cause.
"We are very grateful and blessed to have this community behind us and we're thankful for everything that they're doing. We feel that what the immune deficiency did for us, we would like to do in return for the next patient down the road who needs help," Emma's mother, Jill Jones explained.
And with each year, support has grown. Emma and her parents have used softball to reach out to others.
"Sixteen years ago, we thought we were the only ones affected by this, but now, we know of at least 9 or 10 people in the Tri-State area who have the same condition," Jill said.
Once Emma reached out to those in her immediate surroundings, she went even further.
"I'm part of the Immune Deficiency Foundation national teen council, so I fly all over the United States to mentor children, help them not be scared and let them know what they have to deal with day to day," Emma's father, Jeff Bozarth said.
"Emma just wants to help those little kids; the children are her main focus. She knows what she's been through, she's put her name on it, she owns what this is, and she just wants to help other people through it," Jeff said.
That includes kids like Ryan, who made the trip from Peoria today to meet the girl just like him. Emma is sending the message that although the condition is rare, you're definitely not alone.
"We're very proud of her and we're glad that everything is okay, and we hope that every sick kid along the way can get the same help that Emma has," Jeff said.
Emma has never backed down from what makes her unique, and its amazing what her determination has done for others.
"Some people are scared to tell people what they have, they think they'll feel different, but I'm very open. I like people to know what I have and I want to raise as much awareness as I can," Bozarth said.
Everybody has their stripes, in one way or another. Emma Bozarth wears hers with pride.