Gouldsmiths living life pitch by pitch

Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 4:53 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Baseball is big in the Biggest Little City.

You have those who made it to The Show, there’s the Reno Aces at the downtown ballpark, and high school programs pumping out college-bound players year after year.

But there’s one family in town synonymous with the game: the Gouldsmiths. Buddy, Heather, Garrett, Gunner, and Gabby have spent their lives on or around the diamond.

They’re also resilient.

They have to be.

While many families live their lives game by game, the Gouldsmiths live theirs pitch by pitch because life decided to play hardball.

In the game of baseball you get three strikes, then you’re out. That’s three potential adversities for every batter who steps up to the plate.

Buddy Gouldsmith knows that. He’d been a college coach.

“It’s been a baseball family for a really long time,” he said.

Buddy met his wife Heather, a nurse, at a baseball game years ago. The two have three kids: Garrett, Gunner, and Gabby. The Gouldsmiths bounced around a lot.

“As the kids have been in it it hasn’t always been easy,” said Buddy. “Most of our moves have been when they were young.”

The moves came as Buddy got new jobs. Stops included Nevada, UNLV, and New Mexico. Garrett and Gunner fell in love with the sport their dad coached. Gabby was active and made a living on the playground, getting bumps and bruises all the time. Life was chaotic.

Strike One.

“Those dots to me weren’t anything peculiar,” said Gabby.

Her mother knew what they were.

“It was petechiae. It’s usually for childhood leukemia,” said Heather.

When she was just seven years old, Gabby - the youngest in the family, was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia. It’s an extremely rare condition that keeps the body from producing new blood cells as a result of damaged bone marrow.

“My child could die,” said Heather, as she remembered Gabby’s diagnosis.

Gabby had to be very careful when out and about.

“If you got cut it would not stop bleeding until you had no blood left to bleed,” she said.

The Gouldsmiths had to make a decision. In the summer of 2011, and in just 20 minutes, the family packed and headed from Reno across the Sierra Nevada to Oakland Children’s Hospital in California.

“She and I lived in Oakland in that hospital room in the bone marrow transplant house, just her and I.”

Their stay lasted four months.

“I couldn’t go to school for almost two years,” Gabby said as she recalled missing second and part of third grade.

While she was in Oakland Gabby took 30 pills each day. The family knew the diagnosis. but they needed a fix. A bone marrow transplant topped the priority list. Everyone in the family took a blood test and hoped for a match. Oldest son Garrett’s bloodwork did – only a 20% chance.

“They told me it was my decision if I wanted to do this and there was no question I wanted to do this,” Garrett said in a 2011 interview with KOLO 8 about the chance to help his little sister.

The transplant was successful. Twelve-year-old Garrett put his young, but promising baseball career, at risk to save Gabby’s life.

“It really hurt,” Garrett said of the surgery. “The first couple of days. I remember barely being able to walk and having my dad help me do everything.”

Gabby isn’t cured from the condition, but she is doing a lot better.

“Life has just thrown me curveballs and I’ve had to hit them and figure out how to move on to my next at bat,” she said of her recovery.

In the ten years since, Gabby has lived life – although cautiously. She cheered competitively, Buddy became an area scout for the Kansas City Royals, Heather worked at Carson-Tahoe Regional Medical Center, and Garrett and Gunner graduated high school - with stops at Reno High – before signing to play college baseball.

Strike Two.

“Here we go. Here we go again,” said Buddy.

in June 2021 after a routine visit to her doctor Heather was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer.

“I basically had six rounds of chemo,” Heather said in early February 2022.

But the Gouldsmiths remain optimistic. Heather continues to fight. Her first mastectomy was a success. Her second is scheduled.

Strike 3.

“How much is one family going to be asked to endure is something that goes through my mind a lot,” said Buddy.

On August 1, 2021 the family celebrated Buddy and Heather’s wedding anniversary at California’s Donner Lake. It’s a place the family had visited for decades – just 40 minutes west of Reno. Heather’s parents own a cabin there.

On the final day of the trip Garrett and Gunner wanted to go out on a boat with some friends.

“We packed up, headed home that morning, said goodbye to the boys. They went down to the lake and we headed home,” Buddy recalled. “I got out of the shower to a call from my younger son, Gunner, who was absolutely hysterical...I needed to get up there as soon as possible.”

Then Gunner’s calls stopped coming. Heather – who was driving to work, turned around. When the family got to the lake the Truckee Police Department was there. Gunner had helped pull his brother - but also his best friend, out of the water before giving him CPR.

It was too late.

“What was your life like six months ago? Devastated. You never imagine something like that,” Buddy said.

Garrett Gouldsmith was just 22 years old.

“He’d walk into a party and be the life of the party,” Gabby recalled of her oldest brother.

The family remembers Garrett’s positivity.

“He did have a crazy good smile. He loved to take pictures,” said Buddy.

Within a week of Garrett’s passing the family planned a celebration of life at Montreux Golf and Country Club where he worked.

“There could be like 300 people here maybe,” said Heather of the memorial’s turnout. “The sun came through the trees. You never want to (have a memorial) for your child. But I know it was beautiful.”

Buddy added the family got closure with the memorial.

“It was important from her health standpoint,” he said of Heather.

For the Gouldsmiths, Garrett’s passing - the third strike - was a dropped third strike in this game of life. The family beat out the throw to first base. The at-bat hasn’t gone as planned but they’re aboard looking for the next opportunity to make a difference.

The family still keeps Garrett’s phone active.

“Most of them just want one more chance to play a baseball game with him,” Heather said of the text messages Garrett’s phone gets.

Thousands of texts with positive messages have poured in since that day at Donner.

“You have to live your life the best way you can possibly be so you have an opportunity to give your son a hug again in heaven,” said Heather.

Now the Reno community is up to pinch-hit.

“Just having people here recognizing their challenges and showing the support that our community offers on a daily basis means the world to them,” said Christina Ghiggeri, an employee of Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno.

“The community rallies. We found that out. Many of our long-standing friends in this community are through baseball,” Buddy said of the support.

Saint’s Mary’s held a fitness fundraiser to help the family pay for medical bills. The Reno High School baseball team helped bring in more money at a separate fundraiser.

“It’s not your time to give back yet. That time will come,” Buddy said of some advice a friend gave him while he and his family look to thank those who have helped. “I look forward to that time.”

The Gouldsmiths might feel behind on the scoreboard, but baseball is played one inning at a time. They haven’t run out of outs, and the only thing worse than losing is giving up.

To make a donation to the Saint Mary’s Angels program and help the Gouldsmiths pay for medical bills, click here.

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