UPDATE TO THIS STORY PUBLISHED EARLIER THIS WEEK: Jacob Medina‘s family issued an update on his condition yesterday on social media, mentioning the 19-year-old Gilbert Perry High School graduate, who has been battling Leukemia, experienced kidney failure on Wednesday night and has been transferred to The Ryan House, a hospice-care facility in Phoenix. “We are so scared,” the message states. “He won’t be on monitors or anything to show his vital signs. And of course we can’t win and due to COVID we are having a hard time allowing people to come say their goodbyes even at hospice.” Last night, a vigil was held at 10 p.m. at the hospice facility. A GoFundMe page has been set up for the Medina family to help with their medical expenses during this difficult time.
Perry High School baseball coach Damien Tippett could sense a change in Jacob Medina‘s demeanor when they arrived at Arizona’s campus about 17 months ago when Medina was close to starting his senior season.
Tippett saw his young pitcher having the time of his life, of only 17 years.
“We went down to the U of A to take part in their team camp in January of Jacob’s senior year, and he seemed to be on cloud nine playing down there in front of their coaches and everything,” Tippett said.
His voice trailed a bit.
“That was cool to see.”
Only about two months after that, right before he turned 18, Jacob was in Tucson again near Arizona’s campus, but this time he was rushed by his parents to Banner University Hospital in critical condition.
His face was flushed of color. He had chest pains. Blood vessels broke in his neck and arms caused where doctors tried to spread oxygen through his body.
The night before, when the family was dining at a Phoenix-area restaurant, Jacob turned pale and sick and told his parents he needed to head home.
“I could see how pale his face was and his hands were almost corpse-like,” his mom Krystal, a surgical nurse for Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, told The East Valley Tribune. “He kept telling me how cold he was and that he couldn’t breathe.”
Jacob wanted badly to be in Tucson the next day to visit Dubuque (Iowa) University baseball coach Paul Wyczawski. who was coaching his team in the annual Tucson Invitational Games that occurs during spring break at the Kino Sports Complex. The event features games involving small-school colleges that are NCAA Division II and III, NAIA and junior colleges.
Wyczawski signed Jacob’s former teammate at Perry, pitcher Estevan Guillen. Despite still feeling ill from the night before, Jacob believed it would be a good idea to talk with the coach to increase his opportunities of getting recruited.
Yesterday, I got a chance to meet a big fan and more importantly a new friend.
I couldn’t be more happy that I got a chance to spend time with you so that I could see your strength and spirit in person.
You are an inspiration, @Jacob_Medina32!#JacobStrong pic.twitter.com/5wxluWU3mg
— David Peralta (@DPFreightTrain6) February 22, 2020
Jacob went to great lengths to fulfill his aspirations of playing college baseball. Rather than pitch his senior season at Perry, he joined the BlueChip Arizona Baseball Academy, which includes high school players who participate in showcase events that are attended by college coaches.
Jacob’s parents took him to Tucson to meet Wyczawski although he felt ill because their son was chasing his dreams. After waiting for Dubuque’s game to end, Jacob talked with the coach briefly. When he returned to his parents, Jacob was in excruciating pain.
“That’s when all the symptoms really kicked in and they had to go to the hospital there in Tucson,” Tippett said. “I don’t know if he’s really played ball since.”
Jacob unfortunately has not taken the mound since. He is now on the mound of life trying to pitch his way through a bases-loaded jam.
Doctors at Banner University ran blood tests on Medina and took x-rays of his chest. Doctors informed Jacob and his parents that he was showing signs of Leukemia.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Jacob told the Tribune. “I sat back for a second and took it in. I asked when I could play again and when I would be OK.”
With their 15-year-old son Casey alone in Gilbert, Jacob’s parents, exhausted and emotionally spent themselves, decided against checking in Jacob to Banner University. They instead sped up I-10 to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and arrived there around midnight that day.
One day later, Jacob received his first round of chemotherapy after it was determined he suffered from B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia,
After spending a few weeks in the hospital, undergoing at least four more rounds of chemotherapy treatments, Jacob was able to post on Twitter on Good Friday last year: “March 17th, 2019 a day I will never forget, as I was diagnosed with Leukemia. Today, 33 days later on April 19th, 2019 I have now entered remission!! 93% Leukemia in my bone marrow when I started and now I am at 0.00% Love all my supporters. #JacobStrong.”
Jacob’s body held up well in remission for about nine months but went into relapse again in late January. In the midst of more treatments, Jacob and his family attended a Perry baseball game in early March to watch his cousin Tyler Valdez, a senior, pitch for the Pumas.
“The last time I saw Jacob, he came out for Tyler’s first home start of the year. The whole family came out,” said Tippett, who was an assistant varsity baseball coach at Cienega High School, under Todd Welch, from 2005 to 2007 when his future wife Beth was attending Arizona’s Law School.
“Jacob was in the middle of his second round of treatment because he just relapsed a few weeks earlier. We actually got to talk to him for a good chunk of time after the game. It was really nice.”
At the end of March, right after his 19th birthday about a year after he was first diagnosed with Leukemia, Jacob was admitted into the Phoenix Children’s Hospital again after his body continued to reject treatments. The doctors found a mass behind his sinuses and Leukemia in his skull bones.
In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires social distancing, Jacob’s parents Krystal and Mike can visit him only one at a time. The other parent stays close by, waiting in the hospital’s parking garage.
Jacob has not seen his brother Casey in the five weeks he has been back at the hospital. The family is hopeful for the opportunity of Casey providing a bone marrow transplant to Jacob in the coming weeks when Jacob is physically able to undergo the procedure after battling through dire odds.
Doctors have told Jacob’s parents that he has a 15 to 30 percent chance of survival.
His mom posted a photo of Jacob on Monday of him in his ICU room with tubes all around him. The young man was in a dormant state.
Her message with the photo included: “Please pray for Jacob…please!! .. I cry out of fear, pure anger, frustration & sadness, talk about emotional wreck. Just pray for Jacob like you’ve never prayed in your life for anything, I’m begging you all. #jacobstrong.”
“The whole thing is sickening,” Tippett said. “Jake is such a good kid from a good family. You can’t find anyone who has a bad word to say about him and rightfully so. You go through the whole it’s-not-fair thoughts.
“The whole school rallied around him and they still do even though Jacob graduated a year ago. Everybody’s still got his back. That’s really cool to see the school come together.”
The Perry baseball and softball teams placed orange #JacobStrong stickers shaped like a ribbon, the symbol of hope in the battle against cancer, on the back of their batting helmets. The softball team tied orange ribbons to their gloves. Proceeds from funds raised go to Jacob’s family.
A Gilbert, AZ teen is battling advanced leukemia. He relapsed, & his survival chances are 15-30%.
His parents have to take shifts to be bedside due to COVID-19 hospital restrictions. He can’t see his little brother.
— Briana Whitney (@BrianaWhitney) April 17, 2020
One of Jacob’s teammates in his three years playing baseball at Perry was Michael Zinter, son of Arizona baseball great Alan Zinter, who also played for the Diamondbacks and resided in the Gilbert area. Zinter is now the hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds.
“I believe Jacob was a U of A fan,” Tippett said. “Like most kids, they pick one of the two major schools in Arizona and they dream of playing there, for sure.”
Only 17 months ago, Jacob had visions of pitching in college whether it be at Arizona, ASU or a small college such as Dubuque (Iowa) to be with his buddy Estevan again. It did not matter where he could pitch, he just wanted to take the mound as a college pitcher.
Leukemia has prevented that dream from taking place. His family, friends, teammates and coaches have tried to stay supportive and optimistic throughout the whole ordeal.
“All the odds are against him right now,” his mom told Phoenix TV station KTVK recently . “I think he’ll beat the odds because he is strong, but there is no guarantee.”
Fighting back tears, she said, “That’s what makes this even harder is the fact that we don’t know if our time is limited with him.”
The family is encouraging prayers from everyone for Jacob. A GoFundMe page titled “Jacob Fights Back” has been set up to help the family with Jacob’s medical bills.
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