Camden Thomas Forte has yet to take his first breath outside the secure confines of his mother’s womb.
But he already has his own team.
Camden, due to arrive Aug. 30, will be the first child born to Jackie and Tommy Forte. Jackie, a former standout softball player at Immaculate Heart and the current head softball coach at Hawthorne, discovered she was pregnant on Christmas night.
Now the whole family – Team Cam – is hoping, praying and walking, for a miracle.
It is likely that Camden will be born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that comes with a myriad of symptoms, most commonly thick mucus clogging the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe. The life expectancy for someone with cystic fibrosis is the low 40s, although medical science continues to increase that figure. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website, the disorder affects an estimated 30,000 people in the United States.
In a cruel twist, both Jackie and Tommy possess the same genetic CF mutation – delta F-508 – and have passed it down.
“The doctors could not believe it,” Jackie said. “They kept saying, ‘You really are a perfect match, right down to our DNA.’ ”
The newlyweds have not let the diagnosis diminish their passion and excitement for Cam’s arrival. If anything, it has only spurred them on. Both Jackie, 27, and Tommy, 28, have athletic backgrounds. She played Division I softball. He is a PGA Tour professional, and they have plenty of Wiffle Ball battles in the basement of their Oakland home.
Jackie was going through regular check-ups when she found out she was a CF carrier. That meant Tommy had to be examined as well. Genetic counseling, an amniocentesis and an ultrasound have shown Cam to be healthy (almost 2 pounds), but carrying the double mutation.
“Obviously, we were devastated when we got the news,” Jackie said. “I fell asleep that night, and I don’t think I slept very well. It was 5:15 in the morning, and I started Googling cystic fibrosis.”
One of the first things Jackie found was the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation sponsored The Great Strides 5K walk in Paramus. It’s Sunday at Van Saun Park, same day as the Bergen County softball tournament quarterfinals.
Jackie signed up to walk and sent out invitations to everyone she could think of.
“It was mostly my idea. I said I could cry about this, or face it head on and do everything I can to be the best mom I could be,” Jackie said.
Jackie told her players at Hawthorne (14-7), just so they knew why their coach was going to miss a couple of practices. She was touched by their response. The girls immediately started wearing purple ribbons in their hair (the color for CF awareness) and made up shirts that said Hawthorne Softball, Team Cam and Breathe Easy on the back.
More than 200 shirts already have been sold, and Team Cam has raised more than $11,000 for the walk.
“One of the great things about Hawthorne is how we always ban together,” said Hawthorne athletic director Art Mazzacca. “When Jackie told me about this situation, the community came together to help her and Cam out and do what we can.”
The Fortes always liked the name Cameron – Tommy is a Cam Newton fan – but settled on the name Camden. It was different, and they could keep Cam as the nickname.
Like all new parents, the Fortes were already anxious about certain things: setting up the baby’s room, changing diapers, getting food. But their list is even longer. Cam likely will need a special diet and doctors.
When asked if she was scared, Jackie said “very.”
“The one thing we don’t know is the age of onset [of symptoms],” she said. “He could be born and fine for a few years, or he could be born and it could be prevalent right then and there. You can’t prepare for that.”
The Fortes already have learned a lot and received a lot of support and offers of help from their family and friends.
Soon, it will be the Fortes’ turn to be parents. The couple always has wanted a big family. There first child already is a star, with a team behind him.
“My wife and I were talking about Jackie, and we can’t believe how strong she is,” Mazzacca said. “I don’t know how she does it. If she can find a way to beat this thing and help Cam, she will find a way to do it.”
“We are believing in miracles,” Jackie said. “I can tell you that much, and we are hoping for one.”