For the most part, Jarren Jasper is your typical 14-year-old: someone who loves hanging out with his friends, playing PlayStation, going outside to play football and basketball and figuring out which sport he’d like to focus on in high school.
However, much of that routine has changed. Jarren, the youngest of three children of Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and his wife, Donna, must have a heart transplant, the result of an Aug. 4 procedure meant to correct an abnormally fast heart rhythm. He went into cardiac arrest during the procedure, and doctors needed to revive him on the operating table.
The heart was permanently damaged. Now Jarren, who spent more than two months in the hospital and is home with a left ventricular assist device performing heart functions, awaits a new heart while his mother and father anxiously wait with him.
“You have your good days and your bad days and then reality sets in,” Ivin Jasper, 47, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his office while taking a break from preparations for Saturday’s Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field. “I’ll be sitting around and it just hits me – wow, my son needs a heart transplant. It’s so hard to wrap my mind around it. It’s unbelievable.
“Just to go from playing football and basketball, outside every day in the yard, shooting hoops, to where he is now, not being able to do anything. It’s been a shock to everybody’s system, mainly his. But we’re just staying positive and praying to the Lord for strength every day and getting the support from our friends and family.”
In June, Jarren Jasper underwent a physical to play freshman football at Broadneck High School in Annapolis, Md., but the examining doctor was concerned about his heart rhythm and referred the family to a pediatric cardiologist.
Jarren eventually was admitted to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, where he was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, an abnormally fast heart rhythm arising from improper electrical activity in the upper portion of his heart. Doctors scheduled a catheter ablation to destroy the bad areas of the heart and correct the rhythm problems. The procedure became life-threatening when Jarren’s heart swelled and closed off the coronary artery.
Ivin Jasper was in his office when he received the urgent call from his wife.
“I rushed there and she’s crying,” he said. “A lady comes in and tells us what happened and that they were able to bring him back and we’re like, ‘Bring him back? What do you mean?’ Then she’s saying, ‘We’re doing all we can for him,’ and we said, ‘What do you mean, doing all we can for him? He was fine.’ ”
Jarren spent 11 days on life support. The wait made it seem much longer for his parents.
“My wife was blaming herself big-time,” Jasper said. “She was saying, ‘I should have waited, got another opinion, why did I bring him here?’ She felt guilt. For me, I just felt helpless. I was always there for my kids. They always come to me when they need something and I can do something for them.
“But I couldn’t do anything for him. There was nothing I could do. You just feel helpless. It’s the worst feeling ever. When he came to and was a little alert, all he could say was, ‘What happened?’ It was just tearing my heart out.”
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, who has known Jasper for more than 20 years, told him he could take the year off. After missing about a week of training camp, Jasper returned to the team, making the 40-minute drive to the hospital most days after practice.
He said Jarren helped him make his decision to stay with the Midshipmen.
“I was in his room and he had come to a little bit, able to communicate,” Jasper said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m going to be here, I’m taking the season off.’ He’s shaking his head, ‘No, no, go back and coach.’ Just having Jarren telling me that, that’s all I wanted to hear. So I made a commitment to be here and do the best I can this season.”
Finding a heart, however, weighs heavily on Jasper and his wife. Jarren sleeps in the same room with his parents, and the house phone and the couple’s two cellphones are on full volume awaiting the call. Once it comes, the heart has to be implanted no more than two hours after it was removed from the donor.
Meanwhile, Jarren tried to get his strength back up. Jasper said his son was a little down about missing homecoming activities at his high school, but he is staying strong.
“I know sometimes he gets tired of seeing me and mom so much all the time,” he said. “His friends definitely help. My wife is there with him 24 hours a day, so that’s definitely a positive for him. Obviously, I go to work, but we’re all together when I come home. The support of family and friends is what keeps him positive.
“Right now, he’s just prepping for that miracle to come.”