There’s more to Jarrius Robertson than superfandom
The 15-year-old Jimmy V Perseverance Award recipient is transforming lives through organ donation awareness
Tuesday marked the start of ESPN’s 2017 V Week. During the fundraiser for cancer research, The Undefeated will tell stories about early detection, clinical trial studies and research in minority communities. ESPN hopes to raise funds and awareness about the important cause championed by our friend, coach Jim Valvano. One hundred percent of all cash donations go directly to cancer research.Donate here today.In the past year, New Orleans Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson has made more appearances than even he can count.
First there were Saints games, Saints training camps, interviews with players and coaching, where Jarrius’ playcalling often rivaled — and debatably fared better than — that of head coach Sean Payton. Last year, after signing a contract to become a Saint, Jarrius bounced from city to city, appearing everywhere from the Good Morning America studios in New York City to the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. But no matter where he is, Jarrius never forgets to spread the message that “It Takes Lives to Save Lives” in order to bring awareness to the importance of organ donation.
It was only fitting that the charismatic 15-year-old was chosen to be the recipient of this year’s Jimmy V Perseverance Award at The ESPYS for the strength and courage he has displayed while battling biliary atresia, a rare, chronic liver disease that affects the bile ducts, beginning at infancy.
“It feels good because I get to go down with some of the greatest people, and it’s a big opportunity,” Jarrius said of the award.
The announcement came just two months after Jarrius’ second liver transplant surgery, which has been helping him get back to everyday activities that he was forced to give up because of the illness.
“Recovery is going good because I can do all the things I couldn’t do with my old liver,” Jarrius said. “I’m eating better and playing and going outside.”
The outpouring of love and support Jarrius has received is something his father, Jordy Robertson, is still getting used to. But he is grateful for the opportunities Jarrius has to speak for other kids who are battling chronic illnesses or waiting to receive an organ. There was a time Jordy Robertson wasn’t sure his son would make it past 1 year old.
Jordy Robertson and Jarrius’ mother, Patricia Hoyal, became parents when they were teenagers.
“We were young,” said Jordy Robertson, 34. “We didn’t know nothing. But as a father, I stayed by his side because this was my first kid. I was so excited, not knowing what I was about to be faced with.”
Jarrius, who appeared to be healthy at birth, was diagnosed with biliary atresia at only 4 weeks old. The rare disease affects about 1 out of 18,000 infants and can cause slow weight gain and stunted growth. Jordy Robertson ended up missing most of his senior year just to be by his son’s side.
“The principal gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, if you could pass this test, you can walk with your class and get your high school diploma,’ ” Jordy Robertson said. “I studied hard that week, aced that test, and when they asked if I was ready to walk with my class I said, ‘I don’t want to walk with my class. I have to run to the hospital.’ I got my diploma, and I ran.”
When Jarrius was 1 year old, Jordy Robertson remained hopeful that the liver transplant his son was about to receive would be the cure for his illness. Instead, what was supposed to be a time of celebration turned into Jordy Robertson’s worst nightmare.
Jarrius successfully made it through his first liver transplant. But after surgery, the 1-year-old aspirated, causing fluid to be drawn into his lungs.
“He never made it out of the [operating room],” Jordy Robertson said.
Jarrius was placed in a medically induced coma for a year. A ventilator moved air in and out of the small boy’s lungs, working to breathe for him. Weeks passed before doctors delivered the crushing news to Jordy Robertson that Jarrius’ progression had significantly decreased. There was nothing more the hospital could do for his son.
“As a family, we signed the papers to not revive him,” Jordy Robertson said. “But once they unplugged him from the ventilator, the doctors said, ‘Hey, this kid is breathing.’ They placed the bag on him and rushed him straight into a room and went to work from there. It was a great moment.”
Since then, Jarrius, who stands a little under 4 feet tall and weighs 52 pounds, has undergone 36 surgeries and two liver transplants. Yet, none of his medical emergencies has dampened his spirit.
“His personality, he gets it from being his age and his size and having the heart that he has,” Jordy Robertson said. “He’s got the heart of a lion but the body of a baby. But if there was a war right now, he’d say, ‘Dad, put me on the front line and let me go.’ He’s a brave person with courage and understanding.”
Besides spreading awareness about organ donation and chronic illness, Jarrius has picked up several famous friends, including Saints quarterback Drew Brees, running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Cameron Jordan, all of whom have been on the receiving end of Jarrius’ tough love and advice to better themselves as football players.
“They don’t challenge me because they know around there, I’m the boss,” Jarrius said.
Saints have a message for Jarrius for receiving the Jimmy V Award:
Jarrius met Saints players for the first time in December 2015 during their annual visit to Ochsner Hospital for Children in New Orleans, where he was being treated for gastrointestinal bleeding. Right before Jarrius was set to be discharged, players walked the halls in their plush red and white Santa hats, giving gifts, taking pictures and chatting with the kids.
“I was happy and excited since I’d never met them before,” Jarrius said. “[Saints punter] Thomas Morstead changed our lives,” Jordy Robertson added. “The hospital partners with his foundation, What You Give Will Grow, and this is how we met them. He was the one who offered us tickets to the game where we could be on the sidelines.”
Although Jarrius sometimes faces complications that cause minor setbacks, they aren’t enough to keep him down for long. Most days, just as any other teenage boy, Jarrius prioritizes video games and family fun over rest. Jordy Robertson laughed while partially placing blame on ESPN analyst Randy Moss for Jarrius’ intermittent sleep patterns.
“That kid stays up all night playing [NBA 2K],” Jordy Robertson said. “If we aren’t doing anything and there’s no hospital visits, he’s not getting up until about 3 p.m. … Randy Moss has him like that. Randy will call me at like 11 or 12 o’clock at night and say, ‘Hey, what are the boys doing?’ I’ll go to their room and check, and Randy will say, ‘Tell ’em I’m ready. Tell ’em it’s time to get it on,’ and they’ll play until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning.”
Moss learned of Jarrius through Annie Apple’s profile of the teen on Sunday NFL Countdown earlier in the season and immediately took a liking to Jarrius’ sprightly personality. The pair finally met in February on the ESPN set at Super Bowl LI in Houston.
“Jarrius was so full of energy. That hit me instantly,” Moss wrote via email. “When I met him, his excitement lit up our stage. I learned more about his condition and it hit close to home, understanding that I’ve got children of my own that could easily be in the same position. I was battling some things personally, but not like Jarrius. He showed me with his energy, laughter and determination to keep fighting no matter what. God answered both our prayers and for that, I love this kid.”
Jordy doesn’t mind the late hours his son keeps, nor the designated parent-turned-publicist position that Jarrius’ overnight fame has made for him. For Jordy Robertson, watching Jarrius have fun and entertain others while spreading awareness will always trump the nights he has spent praying for a miracle for his son, wary of the lurking complications that could strike at any moment.
“I know that my son is like a superhero, he’s saving lives,” Jordy Robertson said. “But I also get to bring to light something I’ve been stressing over, worried about and fighting for 13 years. It’s hard as a father to wake up in the middle of the night to stand over your kid to see if your kid is breathing or even alive. And even crying and praying over your kid in the middle of the night is something that most people in the world may not have to experience. For me, I did it so many nights it became part of me.”
As Jarrius grows and learns to manage his illness, the future remains bright. Besides helping others, Jarrius aspires to become an actor and comedian, and he hopes to meet actor Kevin Hart.
The most important thing Jordy Robertson hopes for his son is that he’ll keep fighting for not only himself but also for other kids who are battling chronic illnesses. He said he’s grateful for those who help Jarrius through donations, and who attend or volunteer for events hosted by Jarrius’ foundation, It Takes Lives to Save Lives.
“As a father, the major accomplishment I want to achieve is to make my son the face of organ donation,” Jordy Robertson said. “The reason I say that is because when you talk about organ donation, you talk about Jarrius Robertson, a kid who has been fighting for 13 years of his life and is finally getting the chance of winning the battle. He’s fighting for a cause that helped save his life that can help save the lives of other kids, too.”
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