NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. -- About three years ago, Juan-Mickel Jones had just finished his sophomore season playing defensive line for the New Kent Trojans.
He had just started his wrestling season when he began having trouble sleeping, even though he was always tired.
“I noticed I was getting tired during lifting and conditioning,” Juan recalled. “I continued to just push it off. Maybe I'm getting out of shape? Maybe I just need to work harder?”
“As soon as football season was over, he had a little cough, but it was nothing to be alarmed about,” added Juan’s father, Woody. “It could have been allergies or something of that nature. But that wasn't the case.”
His symptoms grew worse, to the point where his father brought him to Sentara Hospital in Williamsburg. That's where he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, something neither Juan nor his father had ever heard of before.
It's a disease of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure and death, even in a teenage boy.
“The doctors seemed calm with it but my dad being worried about me. I thought maybe this is something really serious,” Juan said. “I knew it was serious but I didn't know it was super serious. I thought maybe this happens to people. But it turns out, no.”
Juan's father had already dealt with the death of his mother from Lupus when Juan was just four years old. Now he was in danger of losing his son as well.
“I was an emotional wreck, seeing my son go through something that, as a parent, never having seen anything like that,” Woody admitted. “You see things like this in a movie, but when you're in those shoes, then you understand what that person is about to go through.”
Juan was transferred to Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk where they kept him as comfortable as possible while awaiting a donor for a heart transplant.
That wait lasted four months. Juan was about to be sent home when a match was found.
“Words can't describe it,” Juan said. “I definitely burst out in tears of joy. I was so happy it would finally be over.”
After a 16 hour surgery and three days of being unconscious, Juan woke up and almost immediately began pleading his case to return to the football field.
“I could tell that my body was somewhat healing and I didn't feel so tired,” Juan said. “It's really weird. I can't really explain it unless you go through it.”
“If God wanted to take him, he would have taken him when he went through that transition,” Woody added. “I wasn't scared about that anymore.”
Juan returned to play in both his junior and senior seasons at New Kent, despite the objections of some friends and family.
To see him today, you would never know what he has been through. What you might notice is his faith which he and his father contend is what got them through all of this.
“I've got God on my side,” Juan said. “Why would he give me a second chance at life and let it go to waste like that? So I'm going to continue to do what I do.”
“It's about God,” Woody added. “It's about strength. It's about wisdom. It's about being strong in this world because the world needs some positivity and some love.”
Juan is now a freshman at VCU studying bio-medical engineering, a field choice based in large part by what he has already been through.
A production company in Hampton Roads is also making a documentary on Juan's ordeal which will hopefully be released by the end of the year and will hopefully show everyone what the power of positivity can accomplish.
“He may not change the world but he's definitely going to spark it for the greatness of good, I can tell you that right now,” Woody said of his son.
“With God on your side, nothing can stop you,” Juan added. “What God has planned for you, that can't be interfered. God will make a way for you. No matter what you see in the darkness, God is the light. “
Through the Make-A-Wish program, Juan got to meet one of his idols, Elon Musk. Like Musk, Juan is working on some medical inventions that he hopes will be a benefit to many in the near future.
The documentary on his journey is expected to be released by the end of the year and the production company is scheduled to begin taking pre-orders next month.
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