All the calls and texts were meaningful. When Penny Svenson moved away from her Columbus, Ga., home to take up temporary residence near Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta where her daughter, Tori, was receiving chemotherapy, family and friends reached out and were in constant contact.
But one relative strangers interest touched Penny more than most.
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla had met Tori during batting practice at Turner Field in the summer of 2011. It was one of those promotions all MLB teams run where sick kids come out to the ballpark for a special night. Players are always generous at these things, especially with children. But once the game starts, the brief relationship usually ends.
Its not that major league players are jaded or indifferent -- most are incredibly thoughtful and caring. Its just that they meet cancer patients, wounded warriors, injured firefighters, widows, orphans and the developmentally challenged almost every day of the season. Connecting with all of them is impossible.
But something about Tori Svenson stuck with Uggla. Maybe it was the unbridled joy she showed when standing on the field she had seen on TV so many nights curled up in her fathers lap. Or maybe it was the smile on Pennys face and the tears in her eyes. It could have been the happiness mixed with unspeakable pain on the face of Toris dad, Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Svenson, who trained the 3-47 Infantry Battalion out of Fort Benning, Ga.
An American hero, CSM Svenson was now learning about courage from his 9-year-old daughter.
Whatever the reason, Uggla felt a connection to this family. He got down on his knees and talked to Tori throughout batting practice. As he would later say, This was the most amazing young girl Id ever met in my life.
Her family would not argue. Tori had once been a typical kid, going to school and playing with friends, right up to the moment Penny received a note from one of her teachers in February 2011.
It read, What should we do when Tori has these episodes, Penny recalled. And we said, What episodes?
Two days later the Svensons saw the first signs of trouble. Tori turned pale and weak. She became nauseated and had severe headaches.
We went to the doctor the next day, Penny said.
It took a couple of months and numerous tests, but on April 15, 2011, Tori had surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. Four days later, the Svensons heard the words every parent fears: the tumor was malignant. Tori had medulloblastoma, a fast-growing form of brain cancer.
In a sad twist of fate, Tori had been raising money for several months for another young girl in her town with brain cancer. Just three days before her own surgery, and on the same day Tori received her diagnosis, the Svensons gave almost 700 to help another child who preceded them on their journey.
Six weeks of radiation followed.
On Week Three, Tori lost her hair.
She was asleep and I found the most beautiful clump of hair on her pillow, Penny said. I took it to the bathroom, closed the door and had a bit of a meltdown. She walked in and said, Why are you crying? That was a pretty rough time.
The emotional highs and lows continued through 55 weeks of treatment encompassing six different chemotherapies. Her hair fell out four times.
One of the highs was meeting Uggla, her new friend.
We just fell in love, Uggla said of meeting Tori and her family. I immediately contacted (the Braves) PR person and said, I need to stay in touch with this girl.
He did just that, texting and calling Penny and Todd regularly to check on Toris condition. When the Svensons got involved with the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer, Uggla jumped in and lent his support.
You find all kinds of foundations, Penny said. When we realized that 93 cents of every dollar donated to the Rally Foundation goes to fighting childhood cancer, we knew that it was right for Tori and for us.
Uggla along with fellow Brave Brian McCann and retired star Chipper Jones filmed a video with Tori for the Rally Foundation, and Uggla invited the Svensons to his home in Tennessee last October where they met his fianc, Janette Repsch.
To do the things that Dan has done, to take the time and show the interest and, really, be the friend that he has been, it speaks volumes to his character, Penny said. Not as a baseball player, but as a person.
Tori was a Braves fan even before that night on the field in 2011. Now she records every game. When Uggla hits a homerun, she watches it over and over.
She is in the wait-and-see period this summer, a year when the cancer will either return or remain in remission. Toris next MRI is scheduled for January 2014.
I love to dance and sing, Tori said when she returned to Turner Field for another Braves game, her hair short and tight but growing back a curly chestnut brown. Then she smiled and said, I love making a difference in childhood cancer.