Yet that is the situation the Jawara family found themselves in. Surakata’s father and mother, Amara and Hawa Jawara, and his older brother Abu, took time off work and purchased last-minute tickets to fly from the Bronx, New York, to sit by Surakata’s bedside in St. Lukes in Kansas City. They prayed he would still be alive when they arrived.
“It’s hard because hadn’t seen him in months. He was healthy when he left us to go back to college,” said Abu. Now, the “goofy little brother who likes to have fun” is receiving dialysis and is hooked up to a balloon pump to ease the strain on his heart.
While Surakata continues to test negative for COVID-19, his doctors say he is suffering from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, most likely caused by a viral infection of some kind. According to the Myocarditis Foundation, “the healing of a heart sickened by a virus is not as easy as healing a broken bone. You can’t place the heart it in a cast and immobilize it for 8 weeks or so, like you can with a broken bone. The only way to help the heart heal is by rest and limiting how hard it needs to pump.”
The damaged heart muscle is prone to lethal (deadly) cardiac arrythmias as well as having the potential to develop an enlarged heart which can’t function well (cardiomyopathy) by its needing to work harder to try and compensate for the needed extra strain on the heart with exercise. In the worst-case scenario, a heart transplant is needed. In fact, myocarditis is the cause of half the heart transplants in the U.S.
The Jawara family story is the classic immigrant narrative. Amara and Hawa left their home countries of Mali and Gambia three decades ago and came to the U.S., where they met and married. The couple worked hard at restaurant and health-care jobs to provide and pave the way for a better life for their six children. Abu said his parents “have always made sure we have what we need, taught us to work hard in school and sports, and fight through all the odds.”
Abu and sister Maria, attend community college in the Bronx, Surakata ventured to Kansas, and the youngest siblings are 14, 8, and 2 years old. The family shares a home, with the oldest siblings working alongside the parents to make ends meet.
The care Surakata is receiving now is only the first stage in a long journey to recovery, and his family will need help to pay for his care. The older brother and sister are already putting their own college progress on hold to provide support. A GoFundMe account is being set up to provide help with medical bills and everyday living expenses.
“This is the time for us to step up, whether it comes from a place of faith, a heart for others, a love for college athletes and school spirit, or just a sense of compassion for a hardworking family that has taken a lot of blows in the past few years,” said Surakata’s coach. “It’s taking a toll on all of us who care about the Jawaras, and we just want to do everything we can to support them as we hope and pray for Surakata’s recovery.”