VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - It's far too lengthy and far too detailed to fit on the back of a baseball card. Ian Larmore's story, a tale woven with experiences involving America's pastime, dates back to 2006.
The Virginia Beach youngster, then just three years old, spent 296 days as a patient at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters fighting Rhabdomyosarcoma - a form of childhood cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation and more than 30 surgeries helped Ian take a swing at the disease and its softball-sized tumor in his abdomen. One of his baseball heroes also assisted.
Chesapeake native Michael Cuddyer, a 15-year Major League veteran, visited Ian at the hospital. Now, a freshman at Tallwood, Larmore's health is thrown another curve ball. And again, he's getting a baseball boost as he digs-in to face his battle.
"Ian playing baseball is a sign of him being healthy and healing," Nemo Larmore, Ian's father explains. "We want to see him back out there."
Ian is unable to play for the Lions as he suffers effects from the radiation and other procedures that saved his life in 2006. Tuesday at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Larmore will undergo a lengthy and complex procedure to repair/reconstruct his ureter - the duct through which urine travels from the kidney to the bladder. His lone kidney (one of his 30+ surgeries in 2006 was to remove his left kidney) is currently not draining, so Ian is sidelined until his issue is resolved.
Larmore is currently without his favorite sport. However, his favorite player is helping boost his spirits.
"My first thought was ‘holy crap’ when I saw his face," Ian said of seeing Jose Altuve, his idol, appear in a video message dedicated to Ian.
"Hey, Ian - this is Jose Altuve," the Houston Astros second baseman and reigning American League MVP said in a recorded video message. "I just want to say 'hi', stay strong and God bless."
Ian admires Altuve because they not only share a position - but also a similar stature. Altuve, one of the best hitters on the planet, is listed at 5' 6". Ian, his growth hampered by that bout with cancer, only recently surpassed the 5-foot mark.
Tallwood assistant baseball coach Joe Agreste, a former professional player and scout, helped arrange for Altuve - the five-time All-Star, to send the video.
"It took my breath away," Agreste admitted when describing seeing Ian watch the video for the first time. "It was awesome to be able to see the smile on Ian’s face when he saw his idol giving him a message. It mean the world to us."
And while the entire world might not yet be on-board, the country - and certainly the east coast, is catching on to Ian's inspiration.
Within the past several days, the Tallwood program and the Larmore family have received video messages of encouragement from Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez, New York Yankees minor leaguer Shawn Semple, the Old Dominion University baseball team, the Virginia Wesleyan University baseball team as well as numerous high school and college programs from as far away as Texas.
"To see so many teams and so many people reach out and share their support: it makes me proud for Ian," Stacey Larmore, Ian's mother, said.
"Finding a way to motivate him means the world to us," Nemo added. "It takes a community and our community is not just our family. It's coaches, it's teachers, it's doctors, it's church parishioners - it's bigger than just us."
And it's growing by the day - and by the team.
UPDATE (Tuesday May 8th): After undergoing nine hours of surgery, doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio feel confident Ian's ureter has been successfully repaired and re-implanted! According to Nemo and Stacey Larmore, Ian's parents, this is the best result for which they could have hoped.
Ian is exhausted and uncomfortable, and will be for several days - especially since he will be unable to eat anything. He will remain in Intensive Care for for a day or two, then be moved to a room. ICU is a precaution for long complicated surgeries as attending nurses monitor him 24/7.
Tuesday, as the Old Dominion University baseball team hosted arch rival VCU, both teams wore gold shoelaces to raise awareness for childhood cancer. Monarchs players and coaches wore Ian Strong on the side of their caps in a show of support for Larmore on the day of his surgery.
UPDATE (Wednesday May 9th): Due to complications from his surgery yesterday, Ian underwent an emergency procedure to determine why his wound site is leaking. The family, concerned, nervous and anxious, asked for prayers. During Wednesday's surgery, doctors found two small leaks. Ian is being kept on a respirator - unconscious, so as to rest and not feel the immense pain from the incision site.
UPDATE (Thursday May 10th): The Larmores report Ian, heavily sedated and semi-conscious, had a 'good' night and is stable and comfortable. Doctors are hopeful that, should he have no new leaks and no fever, they will be able to close the wound/incision site Friday. Because he has a tube down his throat, Ian is unable to speak - but he communicates via written note. His father reports his spirit is 'still visible and beautiful'.
UPDATE (Thursday May 31st): For the first time in 24 days, Ian was able to eat - rather than rely on lines of nutrition and hydration. Still in the hospital following his major surgery - as doctors continue to monitor leaking of intestinal fluid, Ian requires conscious sedation every two to four days as the status of his wound closure is inspected.
UPDATE (Tuesday June 12th): More than one month after surgery, Ian is home in Virginia Beach! He was discharged at 11:45 p.m. last night. Nemo reports his pain is under control and there is no fever.