Tackling grief: Former BYU football player gives young boy a lift

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Mitchell Jones has a visit with former BYU and NFL football player Andrew Rich Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Mitchell is suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — The journey of a young boy with a failing heart captured the heart of a former BYU football player who asked if the two could meet. That visit lifted Mitchell Jones’ spirits during a time when he needed encouragement.

Last Thursday, the family postponed an operation to insert a Left Ventricular Assist Device into Mitchell’s heart that could prolong his life. Mitchell has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and the procedure has never been conducted on a child in his condition.

“Even with an LVAD, he faces a very difficult future as his muscles will continue to rapidly waste away,” explained Mitchell’s father, Chris Jones.

Mitchell’s energy level continues to decrease, and his father said that had been discouraging Mitchell. However, on Sunday he eagerly awaited the arrival of his special guest, former BYU star safety Andrew Rich.

Rich contacted the family through the Deseret News after he read Mitchell’s story last week. He knows a little about what the Jones family has faced. Ten months ago, Rich’s son was born with heart problems.

“He’s had two open heart surgeries, and Primary Children’s (Medical Center) has kind of been our second home,” Rich told the Jones family.

When the 10-year-old learned Rich was coming to visit, he made sure his mom found his Cougar T-shirt and waited anxiously.

“Is he really going to come?” Mitchell asked his mother before Rich arrived. When the doorbell finally rang, Mitchell’s face lit up.

“Mitch I read about you. I look up to you. You are stronger than anyone I have ever met,” Rich told Mitchell as he sat down next to him on the couch. “How are you feeling?”

Mitchell said he felt good and immediately warmed up to Rich, even though he is normally shy around strangers.

Then Rich pulled out a surprise for Mitchell.

“This is actually the glove I used in the last football game I played,” Rich explained to Mitchell. “It means a lot to me. It’s kind of ugly and there are holes in it, but I want you to have it.”

Mitchell smiled — visibly moved by the gift and Rich’s kind words.

“I’ve had some trying times the past year of my life, nothing like yours, but I am definitely grateful for your example. I just really look up to you,” Rich told Mitchell as the boy rubbed his fingers over the glove.

Many people have told the Jones family on the Facebook page Mitchell’s Journey how much they look up to Mitchell, but his biggest admirers remain his brothers and sister.  “He always makes us laugh,” explained his sister, Laura-Ashley. “Even when things are down in the dumps, he has a good attitude.”

Chris Jones said his son has shown great faith during his young life. Two years ago, fire threatened the family’s home in Herriman. While the other kids were busy packing their personal treasures, Mitchell knelt down and began to pray.

“This wasn’t a short prayer, either. He prayed for about 10 minutes in spite of all the chaos of our family preparing for evacuation,” remembered his father. “Even as a very young boy, he seemed to instinctively turn to his faith in God as a means of overcoming trials.”

The family knows the grief they have experienced so far is a dress rehearsal for what is to come. “Through these hard times, I’ve had to draw upon my faith and really rely on my faith to keep me sustained and keep me going through this journey,” said Mitchell's mother, Natalie Jones.

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