Meet A Living Miracle

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March 7, 2010

By Mark Craig

If you thought NFL Hall of Famer John Randle was a persistent underdog who beat the odds, just wait until you meet his son.

Born May 31, 2004, as the twin brother of sister Ryann, Jonathan almost died three weeks later because of complications from a birth defect. He survived when his kidneys began working unexpectedly three hours before doctors were to begin a desperate medical procedure on the morning of June 20, 2004. John and his wife, Candace, were told their son had a 10 percent chance of surviving the last-ditch procedure, which was set to begin at 6 a.m. At 3 a.m., John walked into his son’s room.

“I remember it was Father’s Day,” Randle said. “I walked in and when the nurse held up that bag of urine … ”

Well, let’s just say even defensive tackles cry.

“Jonathan’s just got a big heart,” Randle said.

Today, Jonathan is a physically healthy bouncing boy. Candace jokes that her son shares the same high-motor “spaz gene” that made her husband a 14-year nightmare for NFL offensive linemen.

John and son Jonathan page through a book

John and son Jonathan page through a book.

But Jonathan’s journey isn’t complete. Perhaps because of his physical problems as a newborn, Jonathan experienced developmental delays that still require occupational and speech therapy.

Three years ago, John and Candace turned to the Early Childhood Education program at St. David’s Center in Minnetonka. Jonathan entered the program as a 3-year-old who wasn’t speaking. Today, with the help of an inclusion program that teaches special needs children alongside those with typical needs, Jonathan has gained significant ground on his peers developmentally and is on schedule to attend kindergarten in the fall.

The Randles shared Jonathan’s on March 6 when they served as co-chairs for the St. David’s Center Gala at the Sofitel Minneapolis in Bloomington. The event benefited the more than 2,500 children and families that St. David serves. The center provides family support and resources through early childhood education, pediatric therapies and mental health services.

“When we first got to St. David’s, we weren’t sure what Jonathan’s success would be, whether it was his speech, his occupational therapy or in the classroom,” Candace said. “But he has exceeded expectations. I have no doubt anymore that he will continue to meet and exceed our expectations because that’s all he’s ever done.”

Kleenex was in order for those who attended the gala. Jonathan’s story has been known to unclog more than a few tear ducts along the way.

“He is a living, breathing miracle,” said Jamee Smith, Jonathan’s occupational therapist.

John and wife Candace watch as Jonathan receives help with his letters

John and wife Candace watch as Jonathan receives help with his letters.

John Randle played 11 seasons with the Vikings and was in his third year with the Seahawks when he found out Candace was pregnant with the twins. He decided he would retire at the end of the season. He wanted to be the father to his children that he didn’t have growing up in tiny Mumford, Texas, a no-stoplight town with 150 residents.

Martha Randle was a single mother when she raised John and his two older brothers on $23 a week. There was no indoor plumbing, no air conditioning, very little food and one bed for the three boys to share.

“I wanted to be there when my kids got home from school and ask them how their day went,” John said. “And take them to school if I can. And, if they’d like, play some golf.”

The Randles reside in the Twin Cities, but they lived in Dallas when Candace had the twins. There were no signs of complications in those first few days.

“We brought the twins home from the hospital and were high-fiving ourselves because they were big babies and we came home right away,” she said.

“But it became clear that Jonathan wasn’t eating like his sister. She sort of saved his life because as new parents, we weren’t sure what we were looking for.”

John and Candace took Jonathan back to the hospital. His colon hadn’t formed properly and had ruptured. He was septic with acute kidney and liver failure. He had three surgeries in three days and spent nearly five months in an intensive care unit being ventilated as doctors worked to save his life.

“It was really hard for me because, as a football player, you’re in control of things, or at least you can try to control things with your hands,” said John, a self-made star who scratched his way to the Hall of Fame as an undrafted rookie from Division II Texas A&I.

“But when we first admitted him to the hospital and we’re just sitting there in that room, there’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait,” he said.

The Randles took turns watching Ryann at home while the other stayed with Jonathan in the hospital. They watched as infants around Jonathan were given last rites and died. They just hoped and prayed Jonathan wasn’t next.

Then came June 20, 2004. Father’s Day. A day that started out with the grim news that Jonathan could be facing the end if his kidneys didn’t start functioning ASAP.

“Then, at 3 a.m. on Father’s Day, that little boy started peeing his brains out,” Candace said. “No one knows why. There have been several steps along the way during Jonathan’s medical course that’s unexplained, where he turned a corner.”

It would be 5 1/2 months before the Randles could hold Jonathan. Then another four years or so before he would develop to the point where he could speak to them.

Today, he’s more of a typical Nintendo-playing, light-up-the-room 5-year-old who can’t wait for kindergarten.

Jonathan is on track to attend kindergarten next fall

Jonathan is on track to attend kindergarten next fall.

“Every morning, from upstairs, he’s hollering down to me, ‘Good morning, dad!'” John said. “It’s so refreshing to hear that. It puts a smile on my face every day because I can remember those days and nights in ICU when they were saying, ‘Hope and pray.’ It’s unbelievable.”

(This story originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)