You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate …

… this recent ESPN story about Oregon Ducks running back coach Gary Campbell, his wife, Alola, and their 28-year-old son, Bryan. That’s because it’s not really about football, but about life and love. Bryan was born with spinal muscular atrophy, and doctors said he wouldn’t live more than a year, at the most. 

“The two doctors who made that prognosis that Bryan would live less than a year are both dead,” Gary said. “So he outlived them.”

Bryan, 28, has outlived the odds and actuary tables. According to Dr. Christine DiDonato of Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, about 1 in every 6,000 to 1 in every 10,000 infants are born with spinal muscular atrophy. About 60 percent of those infants are born with Type 1 SMA, which is the most severe and deadliest form of the hereditary disease. There is no known cure. Not long after his birth — and a series of life-saving procedures — doctors told the Campbells that Bryan could remain alive only with life-support assistance. Had they considered, the doctors gently asked, taking Bryan off such assistance?

Considered it? Not for a moment.

“No, we could not pull the plug,” Gary said.

And Bryan is still alive, nearly thirty, and he is loved deeply by his parents, who refused to give up on their son, and who never will, even though “Bryan has never spoken a word. He can’t breathe on his own. He can’t eat on his own. He can’t move his arms, hands, feet, legs or head. He requires 24-hour medical care.”

“Bryan is a miracle because, first of all, he defied all the odds,” Gary said. “I think what he did most for our family is he brought us closer together. We circled the wagons, our entire family, and we were determined to make Bryan a part of that family and to keep him as happy as possible for as long as he was going to be alive.”

Bryan hasn’t just defied the odds, he’s ignored them. And to watch the way Gary and Alola tenderly assist their son, it’s hard to imagine how a family could be any closer.

“We were afraid,” Alola said of the months that followed his birth. “We didn’t know what was coming next. We just knew that here is a beautiful baby boy that we wanted to take home and wanted him to be normal. Wanted him to grow up to be a football player like his dad. But then reality started sinking in: That’s not going to happen with Bryan.

“So we brought him home to die, and he’s still here with us.”

In the television piece based on this article (and which I’m recalling here from memory, as I cannot find it online), reporter Gene Wojciechowski asked Coach Campbell, “If Bryan could say something to you, what do you think it would be?” Campbell paused, then said, “I don’t know. But I think he might say, ‘Thank you for loving me.'” What a powerful witness to love. And to life. Which always go hand in hand.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.