Before Indiana’s match against Maryland on October 12, IU head coach Todd Yeagley received an email from Sue Anderson.
In the email, Sue told Yeagley about her son, Caleb, and asked if it would be okay to introduce him to the team before their match. Additionally, she told Yeagley about Caleb’s condition.
Caleb has a variety of illnesses, including Common Variable Immune Deficiency, Chronic Sinusitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Recurrent Clostridium difficile. He also has reactive arthritis, which causes joint swelling and inflammation.
He’s had six sinus surgeries, two picked lines and a fecal transplant in an effort to make his condition stable. The Anderson’s have had to spend countless hours and days in the hospital because Caleb’s body isn’t strong enough to fight his sicknesses. He’s been at a home-bound school because there is too high of a risk to be in a classroom with thousands of germs that his body can’t fight.
Caleb’s condition has made it hard for him to live a normal eight-year-old life. He’s always loved the game of soccer, but he hasn’t been able to play it consistently with his current condition. Instead of going to practices throughout the week, Caleb is stuck in various appointments.
So, IU assistant coach Zac Brown made it a point to ensure Caleb had the best day of his life while at the Maryland match.
The Anderson family made the drive from McCourtsville, Indiana to Bloomington, and when they arrived at Bill Armstrong Stadium, they didn’t know what to expect.
Indiana made Caleb the honorary captain for the night, and he got to meet the team in the locker room before the match. During warmups, he kicked the ball around with different players. For the first time in a while, he was having fun.
“I just think anytime we can give back to someone, personally, just having a kid, knowing the impact we can have — it makes you realize how important an impact we can have outside of winning games,” Brown said.
Indiana went on to defeat Maryland 2-1 after senior defender Andrew Gutman scored the game-winner with just 18 seconds left in the match.
Afterwards, freshman defender Isaac Sarosy ran over to Caleb, scooped him up, and ran to the rest of the team to celebrate.
“We did it, Caleb!” Sarosy yelled. “We won!”
Sue said the team made Caleb feel like he was the one who scored the game-winning goal. For a kid who had been facing a lot of adversity prior to that night, Caleb finally felt like he was a part of a team once again.
On Christmas Day of 2016, Caleb woke up sick.
He was taken to the doctor where they concluded that he had Scarlet Fever, Orbular Bone Cellulitis and strep throat. All of his sinuses were filled with old and new infections because his immune system wasn’t strong enough to fight all of it off.
Sue and her husband, John, took Caleb to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, and they spent the next five days going through tests. When it was all over, Sue thought Caleb would get better after a few days at home.
His condition only got worse.
The doctors didn’t know the effects that the antibiotics would have on him, so his condition continued to worsen.
In an effort to find a cure and to make sure Caleb’s condition improves, Sue and her husband, John, have flown to and from Boston multiple times with Caleb for EMT care. After speaking with several doctors in Boston, it was concluded that until they can get his sinuses to stop harboring infections, Caleb would have all his illnesses for the rest of his life.
There’s not a lot of research out there right now to help Caleb’s condition because he has such a rare case.
Getting ready to start a full year of heavy treatments, physicians want to try to get all of Caleb’s infections out of his body. Recently, the Anderson family spent 25 hours meeting with physicians in one week, and that didn’t include the time spent in Boston getting treatment.
“We’re so proud of our son because he faces a lot of stuff that’s not easy,” Sue said. “He’s constantly having scans done, needles injected into him. It’s really hard for a child to go through that at such a young age.”
Caleb now has to wear a mask because his white blood cells are decreasing and his Immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels are dropping. These are the first two parts of the body that fight infections when they first appear. Without white blood cells or IgG, Caleb’s body can’t fight back. The mask helps him from contracting germs in the air around him.
One of Sue’s main concerns with everything that has happened is Caleb hasn’t been able to enjoy being a kid.
“It’s a very lonely process,” Sue said. “He doesn’t get to go to all the birthday parties he’s invited to. He can’t go to a crowded place with other kids because there’s a good chance he will get sick.”
Sue and John always sign Caleb up in soccer leagues because it’s the one sport he always gravitates back to. This past season, though, he wasn’t medically allowed to play. He missed a lot of last season’s games and practices because of the trips to Boston for surgeries. When he does attend games, he doesn’t get a lot of playing time.
It’s why Caleb hasn’t been able to feel like he’s a part of a team.
Before Indiana’s match at Ohio State, the team sent Caleb a video. Caleb was undergoing treatments that week, and Indiana had the chance to clinch the Big Ten Regular Season Title.
“Hey, Caleb,” senior Frankie Moore said. “Indiana men’s soccer here at Ohio State, and we’re going to win the Big Ten Championship for you tonight. Best of luck with everything, we love you and we’re thinking about you.”
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Sue said messages like this give Caleb the motivation to take on each day. Ever since he started getting sick, Caleb hasn’t been the same. He doesn’t smile or laugh as often as he used to. But now because of the Hoosiers, he’s starting to act like his normal self.
“It literally brings you to tears because you see how happy he is,” Sue said.
The Hoosiers invited Caleb to hang out with them during their recovery day before the Big Ten Tournament Final at Grand Park. While the team worked out in the pool, Caleb was there throwing the ball at them, passing it back and forth. Being with the team gave Caleb the chance to take a break from the treatments he underwent that week.
During his time with the team, Caleb connected with freshmen Ryan Wittenbrink and Isaac Sarosy and sophomore goalkeeper Trey Muse.
Sarosy made it a point to make Caleb feel special because of personal experiences. Sarosy’s little brother was born with a heart problem, and his family spent a lot of time in the hospital while he went through treatments.
“I was inspired to make my stand and try to make my way into his life as he made his way into ours,” Sarosy said.
While the rest of the team warms up for matches, the freshmen, like Sarosy and Wittenbrink, are the ones who hangs out with Caleb the most.
“We just opened the door and the guys took over,” Yeagley said.
They pass the ball around to each other, and they let Caleb shoot the ball into the net as well. As time passed, their bond grew. After the Michigan State match, Sue and John gave all the players grey t-shirts that read “#teamcaleb” along with matching blue bracelets that say the same.
While Caleb finds solace in hanging out with all the players, Wittenbrink said he thinks Caleb has had more of an impact on them.
“The first time I met him, he dabbed right in my face,” Wittenbrink said. “It was nice to see that he was very upbeat. We talk about Fortnite a lot, talked a little bit about soccer. But, it’s good to get him away from all the medical and health stuff, forget about that and have a good time.”
The Hoosiers won both Big Ten championships with Caleb at their side, and after Sunday’s match where IU defeated Michigan for the tournament title, Caleb got to lift the trophy with his parents.
Indiana’s coaching staff told Sue and John that Caleb was a part of their team and their journey. Now with the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, IU has the national championship set as its last goal to achieve for the season. If the Hoosiers make it to the College Cup in Santa Barbara, California, the Anderson’s expect to be there to cheer the team on.
“They told us Caleb is always going to be a part of the team now,” Sue said. “They said that they were always going to be there for us and for Caleb.”