EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Easton Sorensen lives to love football and believes the sport helped save his life.
Sorensen, 17, played center for the Coon Rapids Cardinals and experienced vision loss after a hit during his junior season. He was diagnosed with trauma-induced cataracts and was cleared for his senior season but took a hit during a preseason scrimmage and encountered more vision problems. He said he didn't tell anyone because he wanted to finish the game, despite not being able to see with his left eye.
The next day, another medical evaluation discovered that Sorensen had Chiari Malformation, an uncommon condition where brain tissue extends into a person's spinal canal that is often not detected until late childhood or adulthood. There have been cases, the Sorensen family said, where it has not been discovered until after someone with the condition has been paralyzed after a severe car wreck. It can also cause fatalities.
Sorensen underwent surgery and an extensive hospitalization, and his teammates and coaches rallied to support him. He learned "relationships off the field, especially with my teammates and coaches, are unbreakable."
"My head coach would call me every single day or come to the hospital and visit," Sorensen said. "My position coach would come down two or three times a week or call me every single day. I had numerous players and families come down. There wasn't a single day when I didn't have people there for me. It was very unique."
Sorensen's mother, Diana, said it was tough to see her son face the medical problem, but she is proud of how he handled it and the family is grateful for the support they received.
"Most people would be, 'Why me? Why me?,' " Diana Sorensen said. "He went through some of that but then he realized, 'Why not me? I can handle it. God's only going to give me what I can handle, and I can handle this,' so I'm extremely proud of him for that. As a mom, you can't help but be proud."
Diana said her son wants to let others know how football helped discover his condition and how the relationships that were developed through the sport provided encouragement.
"At times he doesn't want the notoriety," Diana Sorensen said. "He kind of wants to be back in the shadows but has a lot of really good things to say about football as a sport because sometimes football gets a really bad rap. It can be a dangerous sport. Football had nothing to do with his injury, and it saved his life. It allowed him to find what happened. He could have been paralyzed. He is a very strong young man and has a good message to show what he went through, he can do anything in his life. The sky is the limit."
The Sorensens visited a recent Vikings practice where Easton was able to break the team down in its final huddle of the week and meet players and coaches. Easton said he liked seeing the fieldhouse and weight rooms and meeting players and coaches at Winter Park. He also was recognized as having the Heart of a Viking on the field at TCF Bank Stadium Sunday during Minnesota's win against the New York Jets.
Don Sorensen said the family appreciates growing "way closer to the community" during his son's healing process.
"The day we found out, the first thing you do is scramble to the internet and there's nothing but horror stories about everything out there," Don Sorensen said. "It's really scary when someone has a brain condition. We started searching right away and found out they were having an awareness walk in February for Chiari Malformation and we went there, they opened their arms to him, to us, introduced themselves. He got to meet other kids the same age that have gone through it, boys and girls both. Some of them came to the hospital when he was in the hospital to check on him. Since then, we've had families from Minnesota, Wisconsin, from other states, all over reaching out to him.
"He was very fortunate in that the corrections they've done, he appears to have a normal life, other than collision sports, and for a lot of kids, that's not true," Don Sorensen added. "Part of you is relieved, but it's an ongoing battle they have to go through. He's done an amazing job with talking to those other kids. "
Easton is now hoping to go to college and become a coach so that he can positively affect the lives of others the way his has been impacted.
"A lot of people say that football is their life, or 'football is everything to me,' but football saved his life, and there's not very many people that can say that and walk away from it," Don Sorensen said, "and to keep saying that message, 'football is a sport of brothers,' and him getting an opportunity to go to college and potentially be an assistant coach at a university, he can pass this on to other kids and keep it going, is really cool."
Easton said he's learned how quickly something one loves "can be gone in a matter of seconds and you've just got to appreciate what you have. You really and truly have to appreciate every last second of it."
"I guess it's pretty hard, but it's been the best year of my life," he said. "All my friends and family and everyone's been brought together. We're all so much closer now. It really kind of made everything better, so it was actually a good thing."