For Brandon Mebane and his family, this weekend’s high-pressure, winner-take-all NFL playoff game represents their first fledgling steps toward a different form of normalcy.
The Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle and his family lost 7-week-old Makenna Mebane on Jan. 3 to a rare chromosome disorder and Mebane had been away from the team, missing the first-round victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He is back now, doing as best he can the things a player does while preparing to play in a divisional-round game Sunday against the New England Patriots. “You know, it’s been a tough year, period, but she would want me to be here doing my job,” Mebane said (via the Los Angeles Times). “No matter where I am, I still think about her. I’m just happy I’m still able to play this game.”
Mebane missed four games in late November and December to be with his wife, Amena, and two other children, shuttling between Omaha, where it had been determined that Makenna would receive the best care when she arrived, and California. Mebane, 33, has played in big games before as a member of the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning team, so he is familiar with the postseason rhythms and routines, even though he admitted that this is something else. “I’m doing pretty good,” he said. “I’m just trying to take one day at a time. It’s still painful. I thank God every day and still pray.”
When the family learned of Makenna’s condition in July, Amena, along with Mahailey and Makai, decamped to Nebraska to await the birth. Makenna arrived prematurely Nov. 12 with a condition known as trisomy 13, in which each cell in the body contains three copies of Chromosome 13 rather than the usual two. Many infants with trisomy 13 die within days or weeks of birth and only 5 percent to 10 percent live past their first year, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Makenna’s heart was affected and she developed a stomach infection, along with what Mebane said was necrotizing enterocolitis that required surgery last month.
“She just kept bleeding from her stomach, and when they tried to feed her, it wasn’t good for her liver,” Mebane told the Times. “She wasn’t doing much better, and they had to make a decision.”
With his family in Omaha, Mebane flew out each Monday and returned to L.A. on Tuesday during the season. “T13 is when you’re dealing with a heart condition and the baby doesn’t have a valve to her heart,” he told Chargers.com last month. “[There are] not a whole lot of surgeons in the United States to do surgery on babies, so we had to go to a specialist. There are only like four doctors in the U.S. that do this [certain procedure]. One of the doctors is in Omaha, so we had to go out there.”
The plan had been for Makenna to have the surgery in the spring.
“[This is] something that made me more aware of talking to God more, praying way more, [and] praying not just at night with my kids, but before we drop them off at school,” he told Chargers.com. “Hopefully this will [raise] awareness.”
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