Victory means more to recovering Raider fan

Photos courtesy Scott Thompson
Fellow Southridge fans scrounged up a fresh baseball for all the Raider players to scrawl their signatures, and coach Dave Schank had the Raiders congregate to deliver Joe Thyen a short get-well message, which Schank recorded on his iPhone.

Herald Sports Editor

Before surgery and after surgery, Joe Thyen was stressing over one prevailing concern.

How’s that Raider baseball game going?

A postscript from Southridge’s sectional championship season was that the Raiders’ long-awaited title may have meant the most from the one man who wasn’t able to witness it. One week ago tonight, the Raiders reveled in their first sectional crown since 1982. The same evening, Thyen, 40, emerged from successful kidney transplant surgery, as he and his family rushed to Indianapolis for the operation after learning Monday that a donor had become available.

Surgery was tough, but for Thyen, a mainstay at Raider athletic events over the years, he felt another pang from that day.

“He was very concerned about that game, how it was doing,” said Joe’s sister, Theresa Gogel. “He was upset about it. He wanted to be there for that game, and he couldn’t be there.”

With friends texting Joe’s brother Jeremy updates of the mounting runs in Southridge’s 12-0 blitzing of Washington in the championship, the family was able to feed Joe updates of Southridge’s progress. Back home, the Raiders didn’t realize amid the crowd and the craziness of the celebratory aftermath that Thyen was absent from the festivities. But Scott Thompson knew, so he helped arrange to bring part of the celebration to Thyen.

“He goes to any and every sporting event at Southridge. He has for years. It was something to me, I realized, Joe’s not going to be able to be here tonight,” said Thompson, who became buddies with Thyen in second grade when Thompson’s family moved to Huntingburg years ago and the families became neighbors. “We said, ‘Let’s get a signed ball and get him a shirt or something.’”

They scrounged up a fresh baseball for all the Raider players to scrawl their signatures, and coach Dave Schank had the Raiders congregate to deliver Thyen a short get-well message, which Schank recorded on his iPhone.

Schank realized it was the least the Raiders could do for a fan whose presence at Raider baseball has been unimpeachable. Thyen graduated from Jasper High School as he attended the special education program there, but his fervor has been reserved for all things Southridge.

“I’ve seen him at every home game. And he was coming to all the games back when I coached a long time ago,” Schank said. “I don’t think he misses a baseball game. And I know he goes to every basketball game too, and I’d just about bet he goes to every football game as well.”

A few days later, Scott was in Indianapolis for son Cody’s registration at Butler University, and he came bearing gifts to the nearby Indiana University Medical Center, where Thyen was still recovering.

Thyen was born with a kidney the size of a walnut, and at 2 1/2 years old, he underwent a transplant to receive his father’s kidney. That one worked for 33 years. He’s been waiting for a transplant for more than five years and has undergone dialysis treatments in the interim before receiving word eight days ago that a donor match had become available.

Friday of last week, Thompson visited the hospital with the signed ball and video message as well as a gray sectional championship T-shirt. Still foggy from the operation, Thyen perked up when Thompson arrived with the baseball loot. Thompson snapped a photo of Thyen holding up the baseball with the T-shirt draped over his hospital gown.

“You could tell, he looked at me, his eyes got real big, and he was pretty shocked that I was there,” Thompson said. “(Theresa) said it made a day that was probably not going the greatest, it really seemed to change his day around.”

“He was so excited, he couldn’t stand it. You talk about uplifting,” Theresa affirmed. “I’m telling, you, when he got that shirt and that baseball and saw all that, it just made his day. That’s all he talked about over and over. It just made his day; it really did. It was the thing we needed that day.”

Every day since has brought improvement, and Thyen arrived back home in Huntingburg on Monday flanked by family. He still has check-ups in Indianapolis this week to ensure his body isn’t rejecting the new kidney. But with the toughest part of the ordeal seemingly behind Thyen, his sister figured the support and the visitors from back home — plus those energizing baseball souvenirs — helped him power through.

“He had a lot of friends come up there to see him,” Theresa said. “The nurses, they told him when he left, they said, ‘You’ve got such good friends, you just don’t realize how good of friends you’ve got.’”

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