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Mattawan basketball star not allowing health challenges to stop her from playing at collegiate level

MATTAWAN, Mich. — The Mattawan women’s basketball team played hard against Portage Central for their home opener in early December, especially senior forward Izzy Hoffman. She played 20 minutes that night, putting up points and grabbing rebounds.

“I’m very focused, especially with Portage Central,” Izzy said during an interview at her home. “They’re a rival so  I wanted to beat them. But I’m very determined.”

Izzy’s determination showed on her face, never smiling once during the game. Even when she was sidelined with a hand injury, her eyes were zeroed in on the game.

“We absolutely love watching her play basketball,” said Izzy’s mom Jennifer Hoffman. “She just gets in a zone and gets out there and she has a lot of fun.”

Jennifer was by her daughter’s side the moment she sustained the injury that night. She and Izzy both keep a close eye on her health. It’s been the doctor's orders since Izzy was in middle school, around the same time she began playing basketball.

“I was very tall in 7th grade and they were like ‘you should just come out and play,’" Izzy said. “And I was like ‘OK.’”

So Izzy did. And loved it, she said. However, soon after she had to stop. The following school year she got a sinus infection that quickly worsened. She started experiencing liver failure and slept for 22 hours a day sometimes.

“Then I lost the ability to walk,” Izzy said. “It was really difficult for me to get up and down the stairs. And I couldn’t eat very much.”

She immediately sought treatment at hospitals in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids and at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. After many tests, she was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease in June of her 8th grade year.

“We’ve lost count how many blood draws she’s had I mean hundreds,” Jennifer said. “Two liver biopsies, a bone marrow biopsy because her recovery from Wilson’s Disease has been so long.”

Wilson’s disease means that her body collects too much copper, Izzy said. She was quickly given medication,  taking three pills a day. She was also put on a restrictive diet.

“No coffee, chocolate, beans, dark greens, any lentils, cured meats, pork, mushrooms, shellfish a lot of the big stuff,” Izzy said. “Chocolate's one of the worst ones.”

Izzy spent a lot of time at home resting and sleeping, she said. She also missed a lot of school: one month during her freshmen year, three weeks her sophomore year and two weeks her junior year. Izzy continued to play basketball even though Jennifer was skeptical. So Jennifer sought advice from the doctor.

“We were having the conversation of basketball and I pretty much had asked him about it thinking he was going to be on the mom side and say ‘Yup, no basketball for Izzy anymore,’” Jennifer said. “And it was quite opposite. He said she needs to play ball. And it has been her reason to get up off the couch.”

Izzy pushed through the fatigue and migraines to play basketball, she said. She’d even wear sunglasses during practice if the lights in the gym were bothersome. She didn't care about how she looked. She was determined to play basketball. And she got so good that she’s earned a chance to play with Hope College's basketball team next fall.

“I like to defy the odds and be the underdog,” Izzy said. “So I just put on my determination and do what I got to do.”

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