Joe Jurevicius holds Vanessa, another courageous youngster and this year's Easter Seals poster child
The story of WR Joe Jurevicius and his newborn son, Michael William, captured the hearts and prayers of many Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans during the team's 2002 run to the Super Bowl. Since the Bucs captured the title, Michael and the Jurevicius family have continued their struggles and triumphs, but in a more private setting. On Wednesday, Jurevicius shared his more recent experiences with guests at the Easter Seals Corporate VIP Campaign Kick-Off Luncheon.
Michael was born on Jan. 14, five days before the Bucs were to play the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia. He was diagnosed with fetal hydrops and initially given a slim chance of survival beyond a few days. This father and son, however, have fought the odds.
The Buc receiver battled through a heavy heart and a lack of practice in Philadelphia, providing one of the biggest plays of Tampa Bay's season, a 71-yard catch-and-run that set up the Bucs' go-ahead touchdown in the first quarter. More importantly, Michael has persevered through several health issues and remains a fighter to this day.
"He's a very strong and courageous kid," said Jurevicius. "We were given a two-percent chance of him making it right after birth. Two days and that was it. And we're here at seven weeks."
Speaking to reporters prior to his presentation to the assembled crowd of 150, Jurevicius explained his reasoning behind helping get people involved with Easter Seals and making the Tampa Bay area more aware of the services they provide.
"I think it's become pretty obvious here lately," said Jurevicius. "I may need some help down the road with my son. Being a parent myself and being in the neo-natal intensive care unit with my son, seeing the parents and children that need help, I feel that I have a duty to help now.
"Michael is a very strong kid and we know we're in it for the long haul. I wish I could tell you he was at home right now, but he's not. He's a fighter. They keep talking about how we're not out of the water yet and that we have some swimming to do. I think he might be an Olympic swimmer when this all ends."
Wednesday's event began with several Easter Seals representatives making brief presentations, followed by a presentation by Rene Allen and Hattie Bowers, the father and grandmother of this year's poster child, two-year old Vanessa.
"Before we went to Easter Seals, Vanessa had trouble crawling and couldn't talk," said Allen. "Now, she's crawling, learning to walk with help and babbling words like, 'Da, Da.' The transformation has been amazing."
After listening to Vanessa's powerful story, Jurevicius took center stage and related Michael's tale of courage.
"He's feeling better, but he's still in the hospital and he's going to be in there for a while," said Jurevicius. "I think what's important is that we take every day for what it's worth. If he gives us one good thing that he does throughout the day, we're going to take it and use it as he's getting better."
As he shared his own experience, Jurevicius implored those in attendance to give of their time. While money is crucial for facilities and research and always appreciated, the time and effort to help others is the greatest gift one can give, said the new father.
"Just take an extra half hour out of your day when you're not going to do anything but sit on the chair, maybe give 30 minutes of your day and go read a kid a book or go buy a toy," said Jurevicius. "Just go out there and sacrifice for the sake of the kids. When you see these kids smile and the joy that they bring parents, as well as the people surrounding them, it's worth it."
Many, many people do just that without necessarily receiving the attention or accolades they deserve. On Wednesday, Jurevicius took time to recognize them.
"I find the doctors, the nurses and the caretakers of the children with illnesses that need some help, they're the ones that are ultimately the heroes," said Jurevicius. "They're the ones that have gone to school and done more studying, more note taking and more research than I could ever imagine. Those are the people that I would like to commend."
A former human development and family studies major at Penn State, Jurevicius speaks from experience, having visited children and their families in hospital in his home state of Ohio as well as Pennsylvania, New York and Florida.
Jurevicius' experience with his son has not changed his commitment to the community – he has been involved in several programs since arriving in Tampa – but it may change the focus of his efforts.
"I think what's really going to change is how involved I get with Easter Seals or March of Dimes or any other organization that is out there to help kids," said Jurevicius. "My kid's sick and I hate seeing him sick and I hate seeing other parents' kids sick. I hate seeing people have to cry and constantly worry about are they going to get better or are they not going to get better. That's heartbreaking.
"I'm going full speed ahead to attack anything I possibly can to help these kids get better. And if I can put a smile on my kid's face, on any other kids that are sick or need some help or just need somebody to talk to, I'm going to do it. If I can spread that message to one of the hundred people here tonight, we're going to get it done."
You might expect the Jurevicius family to be angry at the world due to Michael's unexpected problems, but they have chosen to take the hand they've been dealt in stride. They would not be in this situation, Joe and his wife Meagan believe, if they were not strong enough to handle it.
"We're very fortunate parents," said Jurevicius. "He's given me so much now. He turned seven weeks old (Tuesday) and it seems like he should be three years old right now, the way time seems to be going. I said from day one that my son's a fighter and it's no different here on week seven."
Jurevicius was greeted with a standing ovation as he finished his story. During his time at the podium the banquet room had fallen completely silent, with none of the light chatter and clinking of silverware usually providing the background noise at such a luncheon.
To show their appreciation for Jurevicius and his family, Chuck Eppley, the Easter Seals Corporate Development Coordinator, presented the receiver with a plaque commemorating his commitment to Easter Seals and a hand print painting from two-year old Vanessa.
Jurevicius concluded his talk with one last statement to all the parents whose children are in need of the services provided by Easter Seals and organizations like it.
"Remain strong," said Jurevicius. "My wife and I have a rule that says, 'If you're going to go get emotional, you can't be next to the child.' And I agree with it because kids know what we're feeling and if we're not strong for our kids, how can we expect them to be strong?"
Michael is, indeed, a fighter. It's easy to see where he gets it.
* If you are interested in contributing to Easter Seals, please call (813) 988-7633 ext. 108.