June 24 started out as an ordinary day for the Jasper family. Jarren, the youngest of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper‘s children, went in for a physical to get cleared to participate in sports for his freshman season of high school. That’s when things took a scary turn.
Doctors told the Jasper family that Jarren’s heartbeat was far too fast, and he would need to have a procedure to correct it. Aug 4 was a day no one in his family will forget.
From the ESPN article:
Instead, it got worse. Jarren was ultimately diagnosed with an abnormally fast heartbeat. On Aug. 4, he underwent an ablation operation to correct it. Around 2 p.m. that day, Ivin received a phone call from Donna, who said, “Something happened.” He immediately got in his car and drove to the hospital, in tears by the time he found his wife.
“She said the procedure was almost done and — and his heart stopped,” Ivin said. “I’m like, what?”
During the operation, Jarren’s heart swelled and he went into cardiac arrest. Doctors revived him on the operating table, but his heart was permanently damaged. For 11 days, he was on life support.
“I thought he was going to die,” Donna said.
“I wanted to be in that spot so bad,” Ivin said. “I would trade in a heartbeat. But obviously you can’t, and just, there’s nothing you can do for your child, and this is the worst feeling — the worst feeling — there’s nothing you can do for him.”
[Jarren’s sister] Dallas stayed at her brother’s bedside rather than return to college. Jarren was unable to speak, but she knew he could hear her. As the days went by, she would play him their favorite NAV and Lil Uzi Vert songs, and he’d bob his head to “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. She scolded Jarren when he tried to dab, and he made a face pretending to be grossed out when she kissed him on the cheek, but it all made them both smile.
“They said after [the operation] was done, he would’ve been fine and we would’ve been walking out of there and he would’ve been completely fine,” Dallas said. “The exact opposite happened. He was in the ICU. That’s the last place you want to be. Just like that, like a snap of my fingers, everything has changed. From that day on, we realized things were never going to be the same.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Ivin have been close since Ivin was a player at Hawaii, and their children grew up together. Barbara, Niumatalolo’s wife, changed plans and flew back from Hawaii to be there for Donna Jasper, because she knew Donna had to be there for Jarren 100%.
“We all hear the horrible side effects that never happen,” said Barbara. “But then it happened. I was trying to grasp just how grave the situation was, being that far away. My husband went up right away and saw Jarren and just walked in the room and wept. He sobbed and sobbed. He got out of there and called me and said, ‘You’ve got to come home.'”
“My whole goal was Donna. My job is her. Her job is Jarren. No one can take care of him like mom, and that’s what he’s going to want. When I got in there, I knew I couldn’t cry. I had to be strong for her. I had to make this OK. She needed that from me.”
I’d sit there by him,” she said. “He might be playing a game, he might be falling asleep, he might be sedated. Whatever it was, I’d just touch him and say, ‘I’m here, you’re not alone, Mommy is over here, and this is Auntie Barbara, nothing will happen to you while I’m by this bed.'”
The story, while unsettling and devastating, is a testament of the bond between these two families. No matter what, they were going to be there for Jarren and for each other. It’s not an easy story to hear about, but it does make you hug your family a little tighter next time you see them. You cannot take days for granted. Don’t go to bed angry with one another. Tomorrow is not promised. All the clichés matter in this situation.
The pair of coaches have been at Navy for nearly two decades together. When Ken heard about what was going on, he didn’t hesitate.
“I wasn’t even thinking football,” Niumatalolo said. “I was thinking Jarren. You just take care of your son. We were ready for whatever that entailed.”
Despite being offered to take the season off, Ivin got back to work when Jarren’s situation improved. Mrs. Niumatalolo says Donna is doing whatever she can to take care of her son and Ivin visits him as much as he can.
“Donna can’t leave Jarren’s side, and Ivin comes to see [Jarren] and love him up, and oh, he loves it when Daddy comes,” Barbara said. “But Ivin also emotionally and mentally needed to go to work. He needed to have that little bit of a distraction. Everybody handles stress and trauma differently. … And it was good for Jarren and Donna because he was fresh when he came in every day. He could take over, and it was really good. He was able to stay real positive and keep upbeat and keep Donna up. I don’t know if he could’ve done that had he been sitting bedside for hours every day and not bringing in hope.”
“I’m a 24-hour-a-day home-care nurse,” Donna said, “but that’s my job anyway because I’m his mom. Sometimes I feel bad because it takes away from my other two kids and Ivin because all of my time and energy is focused on him, but he’s the one who needs me right now.”
Jarren needs a new heart, and the Jaspers wait patiently, albeit nervously, for the phone call that will send them straight to the hospital.
“The phone rings at 3 a.m. and I jump, and it’s a wrong number,” Donna said. “I used to turn it off when I go to bed at night. I can’t do that anymore.”
Once the Jaspers receive a call that a heart transplant is available for Jarren, they have a two-hour window to get to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which is a 35-mile drive away. The donated organ has to be within a 1,200-mile radius — or no more than a two-hour plane ride — and Jarren has to be prepped and ready for surgery by the time it arrives.
“The reality of getting a heart means that someone else has lost their life,” Ivin said. “It’s just not a good feeling, and for us to have the perfect heart for him will need to be someone, you know, that’s his build, his age and everything, and that’s another family going through the worst feeling ever. So, I just try not to think about it that way.”
Instead, the Jaspers have decided to simply ask for a miracle.
“Phrasing it that way, it just helps,” Ivin said, “because again, we’re asking the Lord to send us a miracle.”
Losing a child is maybe the most devastating thing an adult can go through. The Jasper family needs all the positivity and prayers they can get. A new heart represents a return to normalcy for Jarren and his family; here’s to hoping they get it.
All quotes and other noted text comes from ESPN.com.