The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 1, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN - Former WVU star Thomas lends a hand

MORGANTOWN — A chance meeting last November in Chicago changed former West Virginia University linebacker J.T. Thomas’ life and with it the life of young Anthony Grandberry, 14, who suffers from epilepsy.

Thomas told the story in a Tuesday phone call while involved in a 1,300-mile journey with six volunteers in a van from Florida to Chicago to raise awareness of epilepsy and surprise Grandberry with a trip to Indianapolis to attend Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium, a gesture made possible through the J.T. Thomas Foundation that the Bears’ linebacker has founded.

But back to that chance meeting. The NFL season was already under way and Thomas, a rookie, was on injured reserve with back and hamstring problems that would cost him his entire rookie season.

He was stopped by Grandberry’s mother, Tonya Harris, asking him to meet her son and sign Grandberry’s jersey.

Thomas was overwhelmed.

He arranged at Christmas to visit the teen, bringing him a Bears’ jersey and hat along with a gift card from Best Buy, beginning a relationship that would grow as the year went on, reaching the point that as the season ended he felt he wanted to do something further for him as a way to kick off his newly formed foundation.

“I wanted to make him feel the way I felt when we first met,” Thomas said. “I hadn’t played all season. I hadn’t practiced a down. He made me feel like I was an All-Star, like I was a Pro Bowler. I wanted to surprise him by taking him to the Super Bowl.”

This is the way J.T. Thomas, the Mountaineer linebacker who graduated following the 2010 season, is. As hard as he hits on the field is as soft as he is off it. He has a brother, Jarody, who has autism, and that led him into the world of childhood disabilities.

“That definitely played a part. Me having the relationship I have with my brother, I understand the patience you need to have to deal with special-needs children,” he said. “I know it takes a little bit more. The goal is to make the child feel as normal as possible, just like a regular kid. I know how challenging that can be at times.”

While in Morgantown, he was involved in as much of this kind of thing as he could be, active in trips to the Children’s Hospital, trying to do what he could to help kids who were suffering.

“People don’t understand how blessed we are to be able to wake up every day, to be able to walk, to be able to think, to be able to do the simple things,” he said. “More than raising an awareness to epilepsy, I want to raise an awareness around the world that you are blessed.

“It’s just the kind of person I am. I don’t worry about how the media perceives me or how anyone else does. I know why I do it, and the people around me know why I do it. I want to affect the child forever, to have a major impact on their life.

“I feel there are things more important than football. A life is more important than football. A child is more important than football.”

When this relationship started, Thomas had no idea what epilepsy was.

“I didn’t. Through this trip and talking to Anthony’s mom I’ve gained a greater knowledge of it. Just like autism, there are different levels of severity. Some people need brain surgery,” he said. “It works with some people. In Anthony’s case, it didn’t. He’s a year and a half removed from brain surgery, and he still suffers some symptoms of it.”

The Chicago Sun-Times recently laid out the history behind Grandberry’s suffering, writing:

Harris is a single mother who lives in subsidized housing. She styles hair when her schedule allows, but her life is devoted to her son, who was born three months premature, weighing just 2 1/2 pounds.

Grandberry didn’t leave the hospital for three months because of liver and lung failure and other medical challenges. When he was eight months old, he returned to the hospital with pneumonia, and doctors predicted the worst.

“Everything was failing. They thought he wouldn’t survive,” Harris said. “If he did, he would be a vegetable. But God brought him through that.”

At 7, though, Grandberry was diagnosed with epilepsy, a brain disorder that causes seizures. At one point, he was taking 14 pills twice a day. Still, the seizures didn’t stop, and he underwent four hours of brain surgery on March 16, 2010.

It was a couple of days after Grandberry’s 12th birthday.

Two years later, Grandberry is learning at a preschool level, though he’s still experiencing one or two seizures a week. Sometimes they’re momentary, involving just a twitch or a shake. Other times, he’ll fall down, stare blankly ahead, foam at the mouth and struggle to breathe for up to a minute.

In those instances, Harris lays with him, talks and prays.

“He can have a thousand more, and I’ll never get used to it,” she said. “It’s just a frightening feeling when your baby is suffering and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Now, though, he has a friend, a professional football player with a heart named J.T. Thomas.

 “As a Mountaineer you learn to give back. You learn how big an impact you have on someone else’s life. You may run into a kid that has your jersey on,” he said.

The J.T. Thomas Foundation will hold a stop on the ReadyReady Road Trip, raising awareness and funds for epilepsy research, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Buffalo Wild Wings in the Suncrest Towne Center in Morgantown. Former and current WVU athletes will be in attendance, as well as former linebacker J.T. Thomas of the Chicago Bears.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
WVU Sports
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules

    At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.

    April 18, 2014

  • Means, WVU baseball shut out Oklahoma

    Junior left-hander John Means of the WVU baseball team threw eight shutout innings and the Mountaineers had a five-run first inning en route to a 7-0 victory over Oklahoma on Thursday evening at L. Dale Mitchell Park.
    The Mountaineers (18-15, 3-6 Big 12) broke a six-game Big 12 losing streak after being swept by TCU and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weekends. WVU had 16 hits and did not make an error for the second-straight game.

    April 18, 2014

  • FURFARI COLUMN: Dr. Graber disagrees with Gee’s stance on Turnbull firing

    Dr. Stephen Graber, an associate professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, is among the latest WVU teachers to deplore Oliver Luck’s firing of veteran wrestling coach Craig Turnbull.
    He raised some significant questions about that issue last Monday in a meeting of the WVU Faculty Senate.

    April 18, 2014

  • Huggins signs junior college guard

    Coach Bob Huggins completed his 2014-15 West Virginia University recruiting class on Wednesday and deemed it a success after receiving a signed letter of intent from junior college guard Tarik Phillip.
    Phillip joins Jevon Carter of Maywood, Ill., and Daxter Miles of Baltimore’s Dunbar High and out of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts in the 2014-15 recruiting class.

    April 17, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU gymnast hopes to stick her final landing

    The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.

    April 17, 2014

  • FURFARI COLUMN: Comparing pay of coaches and professors

    Stringing together some odds and ends which may be of interest to you:
    • A beautiful lady came up to my table last Sunday at brunch in the Village of Heritage Point’s main dining room with a message.

    April 17, 2014

  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

  • WVU’s Harlee named Big 12 Scholar-Athlete

    The Big 12 Conference announced its Scholar-Athlete of the Year recipients for the 2014 winter sport season, and West Virginia University senior Jess Harlee earns the honor for women’s basketball.
    Harlee was selected as the award winner based on a vote of each respective sport’s head coaching group, with coaches not permitted to vote for their own student-athletes.

    April 16, 2014

  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

    From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

    April 15, 2014

Featured Ads
WVU Sports Highlights
NDN Sports
House Ads
NCAA Breaking News
NCAA Photos