A group of parents met their child for the first time over the weekend. Like any adoption, both sides were nervous.
"I expected all their teeth to be knocked out," the little girl said.
This was not a typical adoption. The parents were the Yale women's hockey team, and their new baby is 9 years old and already has a loving mother and father.
Giana Cardonita also had a brain tumor. It left her blind in one eye and with long list of health implications. That made her a natural candidate to be adopted by a bunch of 18- to 22-year-old college girls.
You may have heard of Mandi Schwartz, the Yale hockey player with leukemia. Her battle has become a crusade in her native Canada and the Ivy League campus where her jersey hangs in a locker waiting for her return.
Mandi has been in Seattle for months after undergoing a stem-cell transplant. Over the past year, Yale and the hockey community have had a slew of fundraisers and donor-registration drives. The biggest yet will be Friday.
It's a "White Out for Mandi." Yale plays Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and will try to set an attendance record at Ingalls Rink. The place seats 3,500, and players have lined up pledges based on how many people show.
They'll be selling white T-shirts for $5. Memorabilia like an autographed David Ortiz jersey will be raffled. Friends will again be doing all they can to help, but something still won't feel quite right.
That's where Giana comes in. She'll be introduced as the newest member of the team.
The NCAA doesn't have to be alarmed over a 4th grader putting on skates. It's just a symbolic adoption that feels authentic.
There's a child in need and a family with an aching heart. No matter how much her teammates try, they can't buy or will Mandi back to health.
"We're doing as much as we can," Alyssa Zupon said, "but she's still pretty far away."
So a few months ago Zupon and her academic adviser, David Gimbel, came up with an idea. Yale's athletic teams would "adopt" a child as a mascot of sorts.
Gimbel is a resident at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, so he had a pipeline to plenty of potential adoptees. One stuck.
Her mother had brought her to the emergency room one day in August. After years of mysterious vomiting spells and doctors saying they couldn't find anything seriously wrong, a CAT scan revealed a craniopharyngioma.
It's a benign tumor that develops near the pituitary gland. This one was the size of two clementines stacked atop each other.
"You need to get to Yale right away," the physician told Giana's mother. "They're waiting for you."
Dr. Michael DiLuna said the tumor "picked prime real estate" in Giana's brain. He made an eight-inch incision from near her right ear to her left temple.
The tumor was embedded against Giana's optic nerve. To get it all out, DiLuna had to remove the stem of her pituitary gland. The operation left Giana legally blind in her right eye and with no peripheral vision in her left eye.
"That's just the start of it," said her mother, Donna Cardonita.
Giana has a host of hormonal problems, ranging from hypothyroidism to diabetes (Diabetes Insipidus) to adrenal complications. After her mother described them all, I wondered if the little girl could even speak.
It was sort of like how 20 or so members of the Yale women's hockey team felt this past Sunday. They showed up at Giana's house trying to hide their anxiety.
Would the little girl even talk to them?
They soon started wondering if the little chatterbox would ever shut up.
"She already knew all our names and where we were from," Zupon said. "She was not only thoughtful and funny, but extremely intelligent."
Giana is a Jets and Yankees fan and didn't know much about Yale's hockey teams. So she'd gone to the school's website and studied the roster. Much to her surprise, not all hockey players are missing teeth. That was a relief, since she's going to be an honorary team member and all.
"They all had nice smiles and were very pretty," Giana said. "I already had my pituitary stem knocked out. I didn't want to get my teeth knocked out."
She bought them all hockey Silly Bandz. They were in the form of skates and pucks and trophies. They all munched on cake and pie and watched Giana's 2-year-old brother scoot around the room.
After a while, the hockey players all but forgot Giana's condition. She was like Mandi, who always asked first how they were doing. She was always the most upbeat person in the weight room and never complained about the load she was carrying.
"We thought our team would be the one to cheer Giana up," Zupon said, "but it was the other way around."
Now they can't wait for Friday night. Giana will probably drop a ceremonial puck. She'll get a tour of the dressing room, where she'll find her own locker.
"I think it's going to be awesome. Dr. DiLuna will be there if he's not saving somebody else's life," Giana said. "Hopefully, I'll help them win the game. I'll be their good-luck charm."
A jersey will be hanging in Giana's locker. Just like the one that's waiting for Mandi.
"We have something in common," Giana said. "Both of us have been in the hospital for serious problems. So I know what she's going through."
They are teammates now, in more ways than one. Yale now has a mini-Mandi until the big one returns.
Every adoption should turn out so well.
"To have an opportunity to make a difference and see the smile on her face," Zupon said, "it's just priceless."
Especially now that Giana can smile and know she'll be able to keep all her teeth.