PHOENIX — Few minor league baseball players have seen a longer journey in their search for the big stage than Will Startup.
Through nine seasons, Startup has played on 14 teams and has pitched 455 innings. He spent two years living in Surprise while he played in the San Diego Padres organization. Now he’s in the Detroit Tigers system.
But the biggest challenge Startup has faced is watching his young son deal with an undiagnosed heart ailment.
Copeland, 4, has had a pacemaker since 2012, after he went into cardiac arrest in Georgia. The boy’s grandmother was watching him the first time he collapsed and took him to a neighbor’s house, where they performed CPR until paramedics arrived.
“They rushed him to the hospital but then airlifted him in a helicopter to Atlanta,” Startup said. “They took him in, and hooked him up. He was fighting for his life but they were able to stabilize him.”
Copeland was without oxygen for about eight minutes and had to be taught how to walk and talk again. He spent 40 days in the hospital.
In 2013 Copeland’s heart stopped again but was reset by the pacemaker. Since then, doctors have been searching for a cause and a remedy. They want the family to fly to Minnesota to see a Mayo Clinic specialist.
“They are going to grow living heart cells from our own DNA and they’re going to test medicine on those heart cells that take about five months to grow. And they’re going to see how this experimental medicine responds to his DNA,” Startup said.
All of the studies, surgeries and ER visits, however, don’t come cheap. The family is struggling to come up with the funds to make the trips to Minnesota. To reach that goal, Startup created “Team Copeland” shirts. Money raised from sales will go towards their plane tickets and the testing that will be done.
Through all of this, Startup said Copeland has remained strong and in good spirits.
“He calls himself an overcomer. My son is one of my biggest heroes,” said Startup, who has been blogging about Copeland since 2012.
“We haven’t really tried to fully explain to him what’s going on yet… for now, all he really knows is that he has a tricky heart.”