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T.J. SIMERS

Angels broadcaster's daughter is typical teen, and it's extraordinary

Former pitcher Mark Gubicza and his wife are jumping for joy at prospect of their Ashley going off medication, two years after brain surgery following seizures since age 4.

July 19, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Angels broadcaster and former major league pitcher Mark Gubicza throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to a game between the Angels and Kansas City Royals in 2006.
Angels broadcaster and former major league pitcher Mark Gubicza throws… (Ed Zurga / Associated Press )

Let's begin with what we know.

They don't come more likable or approachable than Mark Gubicza, Gooby to his friends, the Angels broadcaster and former pitcher for the Kansas City Royals.

As carefree as anyone might appear, he was bubbling over with excitement Tuesday night at Angel Stadium.

Big game with Texas, all right, but Gooby is already looking forward to Monday, every mom and dad in the place probably jumping for joy as well if they only knew.

"Off the medication Monday," he says, and Gooby's beaming.

How long has it been?

"Ashley had her first seizure when she was 4," he explains, his daughter a little more than two years removed from brain surgery and ready now to take on the world like every other eager 13-year-old.

"In the car today she was talking about going to volleyball camp to better help her make the varsity," Gooby says. "She isn't even in high school yet, but how cool is that to hear her talk like that? We'd let her go too; we could have never done that before."

They began feeding Ashley medication nine years ago after her initial seizure, a little of this and try that.

"No one knew what it was," he says. "There wasn't a week that went by when she wasn't having a seizure. It was relentless and all you could do was sit there, put her on her left side, watch it and wait for it to go away. My wife was awesome, but I always found myself trembling."

Doctors told Mom and Dad to act normal, and doctors are funny like that. But it would be worse, they said, if she sensed their discomfort.

Ashley was attending school at St. Euphrasia in Granada Hills, a pal assigned to be with her at all times in case she collapsed and teachers making sure to have her sit at the front of the class.

"That's where the bad kids are supposed to sit," Gooby says. "The school has been great, but it's been hard on her. She could read a whole book, have a seizure and not remember the next day she had read the book. And the seizures could come anywhere, in a restaurant, the dentist's office, in class.…

"She would have to take a nap after a seizure and would usually wake up and say, 'What happened, Daddy? Did I make any noise?' She was so embarrassed when she would be in class and have an outburst and start making noises. I would always tell her, 'No, honey, no noises.' "

It became a way of life for the Gubicza family, older son Chad and older daughter Nicolette having to understand that Mom and Dad were not ignoring them while never taking their eyes off Ashley.

"The stress was monumental," Gooby says. "It was just relentless."

Two years ago, Gooby gets a phone call from his wife, Lisa, who tells her husband their daughter is in trouble at school.

"She's nonresponsive and not breathing," he's told, and he says, "I know that's not good."

A helicopter is dispatched to her grade school, Ashley suffering a grand mal seizure and medics rushing to her aid.

She's put on the helicopter, only one parent allowed to join her, leaving Gooby to drive.

"Here I am trying to follow the helicopter down the 405, going as fast as any human can, wondering what's going on above me. Little did I know that helicopter was a blessing."

The helicopter took Ashley to Mattel Children's Hospital, doctors setting to work to determine why the youngster had lived a life marred by repeated seizures.

"They found the problem and gave us a choice," Gooby says. "They said we could do nothing and her quality of life would suffer and maybe in short order. Or, they could do brain surgery, my wife freaking out and saying, 'No, not my baby.' "

In time they both concluded Ashley's best chance for a normal life was surgery, a day in the hospital no parent should ever have to endure.

"It is 7 a.m., I'm holding her hand and Ashley Pie — we call her Pie — is telling me not to cry. They're wheeling her in and I'm telling her, 'Daddy's cool,' and she's just staring at me. Whew.

"Our child's life was now in the hands of Dr. Gary Mathern."

They wouldn't see Ashley again for 12 hours. Dr. Mathern, though, emerged from surgery to hug Lisa.

"It was a huge hug and he was really squeezing her hard," Gooby says, "and it was like everything just melted for my wife, who had been so unbelievable through all this."

Dr. Mathern removed a tumor from Ashley's head. It was cancerous, but would require no chemo or radiation. All had gone very well, reported Dr. Mathern.

It was still going to be a long night for Ashley, filled with steroids and thrashing around following surgery. The nurses asked Mom and Dad to do what they could to calm their daughter down.

So Gooby started singing Christmas songs.

A day later, Ashley had yet to eat, Gooby telling her he'd get her whatever she wanted. It was Thanksgiving week, but all Ashley wanted was Burger King's mac and cheese.

Gooby picked up two mac and cheese meals. Ashley gobbled them up and it has now become a Thanksgiving tradition.

"She says Burger King stopped making them," he says, "but I'll find them if I have to get a box and write Burger King on it for her."

His daughter worried from the outset about her hair being mussed up in surgery, Gooby promised to shave his own head. But Dr. Mathern worked his medical magic without any noticeable damage.

"My wife asked the doctor what restrictions he was going to put on Ashley after surgery and he said, 'She can ride a bike as long as it's Harley and she puts on a helmet.' "

It's been years now since a seizure, Ashley a bulldog, her father says, and as happy as any other kid.

"She's back playing volleyball, at the movies today with her friends, and she could never have done that before," Gooby says. "She goes off her medication, all goes well and now someday our little girl will have the chance to drive, get married and have children."

And Gooby is beaming, and now he really is carefree.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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