Against All Odds
In his struggle to lead a normal life, Tyler Yates is living an extraordinary one.
Yates, an 18-year-old goalkeeper for the University of Redlands, was diagnosed with B-cell Humoral Immunodeficiency with severe Hypoimmunogammaglobulinemia when he was a toddler. The rare disease keeps him from fighting off infections, which means something as simple as a cold, the flu or a cut has the potential to make him very ill.
The sophomore from Chico, Calif., has persevered through 33 operations and hundreds of hospitalizations after having doctors tell his parents he probably would not live past the age of five. Yates kept exceeding the doctors' expectations, and went on trying to enjoy his childhood.
|Tyler Yates believes soccer is a key reason he's able to fight his disease. (Redlands)|
Yates' father left the family immediately after the diagnosis because he did not want to watch his son die, while his mother worked three to four jobs in order to pay the staggering medical bills.
"It's a very, very costly disease," said Yates. "We've reached the million dollar mark (maximum) for our insurance three times, and my mom's had to change jobs (to get other insurance)."
Since his diagnosis, doctors have learned more about the condition, but Yates decided to educate himself with his mother's old microbiology textbooks.
"No one knows why you get it," said Yates. "There's no cure. There's not really a huge death toll from it, but it leads to chronic infections that if untreated can be fatal."
Inspired by his medical situation, Yates has wanted to be a pediatric immunologist since the age of four.
"It's what I love to do," Yates said, who is majoring in molecular biology. "I think the body is really intriguing. When I was in fourth grade I did a science fair project that had all of the components of the immune system, and a college professor used it to teach to her class."
In addition a monthly intravenous antibiotics treatment " a process that takes four to six hours to administer -- Yates believes playing soccer is one of the key reasons he's able to fight the disease.
"I know my body really well, and when I get sick I can treat it at the onset of infection," said Yates. "I know how to keep myself healthy, and that's where exercise and soccer come into play. The more I play soccer, the healthier I feel."
Playing soccer helps keep Yates' mind healthy as well.
"It's like a sanctuary from troubles," said Yates. "When I'm out on the field, I don't feel like a sick kid out there " I just feel like a soccer player."
Yates wasn't sure he would be able to play collegiate soccer, but Redlands helped him fulfill his dream.
"I came to visit the school, and talked with Coach (Rob) Becerra, and he said that he wanted me to play here," Yates said. "I decided that Redlands would be my best opportunity for athletics and academics, and they certainly had the reputation in both."
When he's not going to school or playing soccer, or working a part-time job to help pay the family's bills, Yates is an excellent motivational speaker. He has been giving speeches since eighth grade, and last summer he was flown to Orlando, Fla., for the Immune Deficiency Foundation's National Conference.
"I spoke to kids who have similar illnesses as I do," said Yates. "I basically told them how to make the transition from high school to college. A lot of the kids are stuck in the 'why me' stage, and don't understand why they have their diseases. I let them know that they don't have to be stuck in a pool of pity. There's hope out there, and they can still do things that they want to do." And, as he strives to live the life of an ordinary student-athlete, he's setting a wonderful example.