Turning pain into purpose.

By: Jessica Bonardi

How V Teamer Tonya House is saving the lives of student athletes.

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When Tonya House, a Communications Representative on the Verizon Business team from Silver Spring, Maryland, gave birth to her son Jordan, he was classified as a premature birth. But to Tonya, there was nothing small about this boy. “He was 6 lbs 7 ounces and 21 inches long, so to me he was a full-term baby.”

Jordan continued to grow, so much so that by the third grade he had to be given a teacher’s desk in school. As he grew, he loved playing sports, especially baseball and basketball. His large size made him known throughout his county. By the time he was in an eighth grade basketball game, a football coach approached his parents and said to Jordan’s father, “Jordan is a football player.”

From that point on, Jordan not only played football, he excelled. By the time he got to his sophomore year, Jordan was already getting college offers. “The first day of his junior year, we received at least 500 pieces of mail from various colleges interested in him,” remembered Tonya. Jordan eventually received full scholarship offers from 19 colleges and universities. He eventually chose Maryland.

Jordan decided to major in kinesthesiology with a goal of eventually becoming a physical therapist. “I was happy that he was going to experience college life and all the possibilities that would come with that,” said Tonya.

Tonya dropped Jordan off at school on May 28th. The following day, she received a call from the campus police. Jordan had suffered a seizure on the practice field and had been taken to the hospital. Tonya couldn’t believe it. “I didn’t understand it because in 19 years he had never had a medical issue.”

When Tonya arrived at the hospital, Jordan’s coaches explained that he had been cramping and vomiting on the field after running sprints. The temperature had been in the 80s. His teammates had helped carry him to the football house where the training staff noticed he wasn’t sweating. They tried to cool him down with wet towels. By that time, his internal temperature was 106 degrees. He was eventually brought by ambulance to the hospital where doctors put him in an induced coma. He was then moved to another hospital. “He was on every machine that could work for you to keep you alive,” recalled Tonya.

In the following days, Jordan’s liver failed and he received an emergency liver transplant. He battled for days but on June 13 he passed away. Tonya was with her son during his final moments. “I whispered in his ear, ‘Jordan, this will not be in vain. And thank you for the wonderful 19 years that we had.’”

Tonya and Jordan’s father started The Jordan McNair Foundation to help parents recognize heat-related illnesses with a focus on increasing education and awareness of signs and treatment at the high school level. “That’s where the big problem is now,” said Tonya.

Her advice to student athletes is simple. “Listen to your body. Don’t worry about what other people say. Heat stroke is something that is 100% preventable if treated in a timely manner.”

The foundation helps school programs in multiple sports put procedures in place to treat heat-related illnesses, like having a cold water bath on the field and having an emergency action plan in place.

Meanwhile, Tonya continues to lean on her family for support, a group that includes her coworkers. “My Verizon family is — and was — amazing. They really rallied around my family. I remember one day, my good friend pulled up in front of my house with loads of food, sodas and water that my coworkers had provided. It was wonderful. I can’t thank them enough for supporting me during that time and still to this day. And I want to let them know it is so, so so appreciated. They are absolutely the best.”

Tonya believes Jordan has been watching all that she and Jordan’s father are doing with the foundation. “I can hear Jordan’s voice in my head saying, ‘Mom, you’re doing a good job. Dad, you’re doing a good job.’ I feel like he’s patting us on our backs and saying, ‘Thank you.’”

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