by Jessica Razanadrakoto
After encountering early struggles in her life, freshman Bella Hoyos has not let the odds define her. Growing up in Bellingham, Wash., Hoyos was diagnosed at age 3 with Kawasaki disease, a childhood heart disease which involves inflammation of the blood vessels that may cause damage to the heart. Though the rare heart condition may result in limited physical activities, Hoyos plays tennis for Whitworth, as the top freshman at No. 3 singles.
A lot of parents do not know about this disease, as it begins with a flu, Hoyos said.
“I was showing symptoms very rapidly, so my parents brought me to the emergency room to see what was wrong. And the hospital in Bellingham was not quite sure what it was, so they sent me to the Children’s [hospital] in Seattle [where] the Kawasaki expert Dr. Portman knew right away,” Hoyos said.
After spending a few days in the hospital, Hoyos said that her parents were given a choice with regard to her future activities. They could keep an eye on her 24/7 and prevent her from playing sports, or they could sacrifice 24-hour care to give her the chance to be a kid.
“[My parents] didn’t want to put restrictions on what I did actively,” Hoyos said. “They allowed me to do what I wanted to do and supported me in anyway that they could and still do.”
While attending Bellingham High School, Hoyos went to the state tournament for doubles her freshman and sophomore years, where she and her partner won the state title twice. The next two years, she went to the state tournament for singles and placed third both times.
After those tremendous accomplishments, not to play in college was not an option for Hoyos, she said.
“Having her at that No. 3 spot is huge for us because she is so strong right there,” head coach Jo Wagstaff said.
Hoyos’ only conference loss in her first year of college tennis was to Whitman. She was recently named Second Team All-NWC.
“Getting to play with good hitters every day has helped her improve,” Wagstaff said.
Though Hoyos is an only child, she hardly considers herself to be one thanks to her relatives’ presence in her life, Wagstaff said.
“Her parents just come here for about every match and she has a couple of grandparents that come as well, with her aunts and uncles,” Wagstaff said.
Hoyos originally researched potential causes of the disease in the hope of pursuing it after receiving her bachelor’s degree in Health Science. However, after being exposed to different health professions, Hoyos is drawn to occupational therapy. She wants to attend a graduate school outside of Washington, but wants to come back and hopefully work at Seattle Children’s Hospital to primarily help kids.
“Not all kids who are born with this disease are able to do this level of physical activity, yet Bella became a tennis star,” assistant coach Colin Storm said.
Now that Hoyos has seen what she is capable of, she reaches out to kids with this disease and their parents. She spoke at a symposium sponsored by the Seattle Children’s Hospital last fall. She wanted the families to understand that children should not be held from what they want to do, Christine Hoyos, Bella’s mother, said.
“Now we don’t think about it anymore when she’s on the court. She is healthy and happy with what she is doing. When she first started at Whitworth, she said that being a student-athlete was a lot of work, and she thought she wasn’t going to be able to make it,” Christine Hoyos said. “But we told her that it was up to her to decide and we are happy and so proud of her and the choice she made.”