RIley Sorenson's father, Bart, suffered a heart attack in El Paso on the day of the Sun Bowl. He passed away on Tuesday.

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At about 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Bart Sorenson, the father of Washington State Cougars center Riley Sorenson, died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas. Bart was 49.

Bart Sorenson traveled to El Paso over Christmas to watch Riley play in the Sun Bowl, but suffered a heart attack on the day of the game, while on his way to the stadium.

Because Bart was the only member of the Sorenson family who had made the trip to El Paso, Riley was his next of kin, and WSU coaches took him aside right before the game to break the news of his dad’s medical condition.

It was the beginning of a hard time for the Sorensons, who live in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Riley’s mother, Karen, and siblings, Will and Elizabeth, got to El Paso the next day and from that point on kept vigil over Bart, who underwent an angioplasty procedure and had three stents inserted before he was placed in an induced coma. Doctors said 70 percent of Bart’s brain was damaged, and the situation was further compounded after the new year, when Bart got pneumonia.

“Bart was an amazing father and provider to his three children — Riley, Will and Elizabeth,” the Sorenson family said in a statement. “He took great pride and did everything within his power to be available and a presence in their lives, this was no different. Bart was a strong man with high values and will be greatly missed. Our family would like to thank all of those (known and unknown) for the financial and emotional support that you have so generously given.

“We know that during this incredibly difficult and heart wrenching time, that we have not been alone. It is with sincere gratitude that we would
like to thank everyone who has shown their love and support, it has and continues to ease the pain and grief we have endured after losing the rock of our family.”

When she first found out about Bart’s condition on Dec. 26, April Lamphere Rystad, the wife of Sun Bowl board member Allen Rystad, tried to think of ways in which she could help the family.

“We heard when we were working the game, that (Bart’s heart attack) had happened, and I wanted to make sure Riley was OK. I went by the hospital that night to check on him,” said Rystad, who has four boys of her own. “I think my motherly instincts came flying out when I realized that this kid was by himself in a strange place.

“I can’t imagine as an adult going through that, let alone kids. My heart broke for them.”

Rystad initially started out asking for gift cards to help the Sorensons offset food costs while they were at the hospital. But as more people started to ask how they could help, she decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help subsidize the cost of the Sorensons’ travel and accommodations in El Paso.

Rystad launched the GoFundMe page for the Sorensons on Dec. 30, and within 36 hours, the page had hit its initial goal of $50,000. The goal was thereafter increased to $150,000.

“We started off with $50,000 because I didn’t want to seem overeager. I didn’t realize how quickly the support would come in,” Rystad said. “I was pretty amazed. It’s nice to see that people still genuinely have compassion for others and are willing to step up and help where they can.”

Questions subsequently arose as to whether the GoFundMe campaign for the Sorensons was a violation of NCAA rules. But on Jan. 2, the WSU athletic department issued a statement clarifying that the GoFundMe account was legal under NCAA rules, which allow fundraisers for student-athletes under “extreme circumstances” such as “life-threatening illness,” as long as the money was earmarked for a specific purpose.

Rystad said she is working with WSU to ensure that the GoFundMe account continues to be in compliance with NCAA rules.

“I didn’t even know it was going to be a problem,” Rystad said. “This is supposed to help, and in no way do we want anything to come out negatively. We’re using caution and making sure what we’re doing is in compliance.”

As of Thursday morning, the GoFundMe page for the Sorensons has raised $65,518, donated by 854 people.

“The $150,000 (goal) is not even a drop in the bucket for what the family will have to face financially, when you consider the length of stay, the ICU, the cost of the hotel and the cost of food,” Rystad said. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it will help.”