UPDATE: Yesterday at 3pm, about the same time this story was posted, Avery Canahuati passed away due to pulmonary complications related to SMA. Avery's father managed to briefly recuscitate her using CPR, but she passed away at the hospital shortly thereafter. Our thoughts and prayers are with her loved ones.
“Welcome to the field, Avery Canahuati.”
This announcement at the Sugar Land Skeeters home game last Friday was met with a meek smattering of applause. But frankly, when they broadcast the name of the person throwing out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game, this is the standard reaction. Whether it’s a radio contest winner or the owner of a local car dealership, the unexceptional hand clapping that ensues is Morse code for “big whoop.” But then the announcer says something else, something about a little six-month-old girl that’s been “diagnosed with a terminal and incurable disease.”
At this point, the crowd takes notice of Mike and Laura Canahuati on the pitcher’s mound. They’re holding baby Avery. She wears a shirt with a small pink heart, and tiny pink high-tops to match.
“To make sure Avery lives a complete and fulfilled life, her loved ones have created a bucket list for her,” the announcer says. “Today, she will be crossing another item off that list by throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game.”
The couple walks toward home plate. The crowd cheers. And cheers. Getting louder. And louder. With her mom’s help, Avery tosses the ball a few feet into the catcher’s mitt. Strike.
Get a tattoo. Eat a cupcake. Wear a big bow on my head. Ride in an ambulance.
It was Good Friday when Mike and Laura heard their daughter had spinal muscle atrophy (SMA), a genetic disorder that is expected to take Avery’s life in the next 18 months. But nevertheless, a life is meant to be lived. So Mike had the idea to create a bucket list, and document the milestones on the blog Avery’s Bucket List. The site launched April 9th, three days after the diagnosis. Three weeks later, the site has more than 2 million page views.
Open a birthday gift from a stranger. Play with a pinwheel. Get 1,000 smiles mailed to me.
Do not visit the site looking for a good tearjerker. It’s full of humor and buzzing with activity: pictures, YouTube videos, Facebook and Twitter links. Mike pens everything in Avery's first-person voice, and keeps the content cheerful, upbeat and funny. (Under a reader-submitted photo, Avery writes, “A stranger had a lemonade stand in my honor and sold three cups for $48! Daddy wants to know what was in that lemonade.”)
Redecorate my room. Get a sponge bath. Eat a Blow Pop.
At first glance, the site captures the mundane joys of new parenthood: A lot of smiles, a lot of baby gear, a lot of frizzy early morning bedhead. It’s only when you scroll past the image of an IV stand and oxygen concentrator flanking her white and pink crib that the sting appears in your eyes.
Wake up smiling. Play with Play-Doh. Get picked up by a fireman.
Be it 100 years or a day, each qualifies as a life. But neither 100 years nor a day qualifies as a full life. It's only what you do with that time that makes it so. This is about a dad making the most out of the least, the best out of the worst, a lot out of a little.
The day after the game, Mike wrote on the blog, “What’s next: Whatever I bring to life, because I don't have time to wait for life to bring anything to me.”