How much is the life of a college athlete worth?
That is the question Maruchi Mendez has been asking ever since her son, Ramiro “Toti” Mendez, passed away on April 2, 2000.
Toti was Miami-Dade County’s 1998 Class 4A-1A Baseball Player of the Year out of Miami Westminster Christian and an all-American at FIU. His life was cut short at 20 during his sophomore year by a condition known as sudden cardiac death (SCD), which was caused by undetected cardiomy-opathy.
Mendez immediately transformed from a grief-stricken mother to a determined activist, campaigning for a mandate requiring intercollegiate athletes to take electrocardiograms. The bill passed in the Florida Senate but not the House of Representatives.
The cost to test a student-athlete remains an obstacle. According to newchoicehealth.com, the average cost for an electrocardiogram is around $1,500. Mendez believes adults have a responsibility to the athletes and need to “step up to the plate.”
“I cried to no avail, but then I wrote this book,” Mendez said. “It started as a letter to him, telling him about things I never got to tell him. I’ve always liked to write. I’ve done poetry, mainly. Now if I could only save one life it would be worth it, the book.”
Finding Home: A Memoir of a Mother’s Undying Love and an Untold Secret details Toti’s story as well as Mendez’s secret: Toti was born in Asturias, Spain, and illegally adopted by Maruchi and Ramiro Mendez and brought to the United States.
She will be signing copies of her book at 7 p.m. Thursday at Books and Books in Coral Gables. Mendez also co-founded the JunTos Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help young patients and their families who fall victim to terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
“I just hope that no mother has to go through what I’ve gone through,” Mendez said. “The pain never goes away. You just learn to live with that terrible loss. You learn to live with your sense of loss. Nothing really makes it better, but I do hope that it makes it better for others even if a high school athlete picks up the book or finds out what Toti’s symptoms were. They’ve got to learn to listen to their bodies. They’re not Superman. They cannot take themselves to that extent. They cannot force themselves like that. They need to be checked out and be very aware of their bodies.”