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News » J.R. is A-OK with ill teenager


J.R. is A-OK with ill teenager


J.R. is A-OK with ill teenager His irresponsibility caused the death of a close friend. His responsiveness may have helped save the life of a new friend.

The Fairy Princess and J.R. Swish is a rose-and-thorn tale.

Four years ago, when Hannah Marklin was 12, her fondest wish was to play Basketball.

But she developed a mysterious ailment. The Cinderella-haired, beautiful young girl couldn't keep food down, and she was losing far too much weight. Doctors believed she was bulimic. When medication didn't provide relief, her gallbladder was removed, and a tube was inserted into her nose and down to her lower intestine.

Hannah developed a massive stomach infection, and another tube was surgically placed in her body. The suffering worsened.

Finally, a doctor at Johns Hopkins properly diagnosed Hannah with dysautonomia, an incurable disease resulting from the breakdown of the autonomic nervous system and leading to an exploding heart rate, serious blood problems and, possibly, death.

The teenager from Parker couldn't play sports, couldn't exercise, couldn't attend school, couldn't go out with her friends, couldn't stand for more than a few minutes a day. She was barely surviving. In 2006, during a prolonged hospital stay, Hannah began watching the Nuggets on TV. "I became a huge fan," she said.

After her stomach stopped functioning, and she endured another series of examinations and yet another surgery last month, the courageous, but despondent, 16-year-old begged parents Bryan and Marlowe: "I can't do this any more. Please let me die."

Hannah, who hasn't eaten solid foods in three years, said recently: "When I was younger, I didn't think death was controllable. But during the last six months, I realized I could control my body and my mind and quit living, and I wanted to. I didn't have much of a life."

Hannah's parents turned to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

All Hannah wanted was some tickets for this season's Nuggets games.

She got more. Coach George Karl showed up with three season tickets, and backstage passes for every game.

And the coach was accompanied by J.R. Smith.

"I was nervous when I met J.R. I'd heard all the bad stuff about him - the accident thing (in which Smith's best friend died) and how he spent time in jail and that he was immature," Hannah said. "I didn't think he'd be comfortable with a sick kid, and I didn't know if I would like him.

"But J.R. was so cool. People don't want to touch me because they mistakenly think they'll get my disease. J.R. just reached out and hugged me. It was a very special moment."

That visit could have been the end of a brief commitment for J.R. As part of his sentencing, Smith has to perform community service. He could sweep streets.

However, on his own and without publicity, or a push, J.R. has continued to reach out to Hannah, and they have become great buddies.

"J.R. has given me a reason to go on fighting. He wants to help me, and I'm going to help him 'man up,"' she said, with a laugh that dulls the pain.

"It's a very rare disease she has, and I was really surprised how high her spirits were," Smith said. "It gave me something to think about as I go through the stuff that I go through.

"It's incredible how anyone can have that effect on another person - she told me I gave her life and a reason to keep pushing. It's incredible."

Marlowe Marklin said that since J.R. came into her daughter's life, "The smile hasn't left her face. There's no more talk of dying."

Hannah attended the Nuggets' first exhibition, which was her first Nuggets game.

"I don't do well in crowds. When I went to a Broncos game I passed out," she said. "But I'm able to focus at the Nuggets game, and I'm all right because I'm watching J.R."

Afterward, J.R. spent several minutes with Hannah in the locker room and introduced her to his teammates. "I couldn't believe it. That locker room is like a five-star hotel, and there were all the stars," said Hannah, an incredibly intelligent, vibrant, expressive young lady. She is schooled at home, alone, by e-mails from teachers.

Because of the illness, the blood rushes to, and badly swells, her feet. J.R. presented Hannah with a pair of his size 15 sneakers. Then, on a recent night, J.R. - wearing a tuxedo! - and his driver joined the Marklin family at a charity gala, danced with the little girls at the adjoining tables and participated in raising $200,000 for Make-A-Wish.

Hannah is "bummed that J.R. won't get to play at the beginning of the season." Smith has been suspended for seven games.

But, she's optimistic the team will do well.

"The Nuggets are going to have a big year. I think they'll beat everybody, but I'm an optimist now."

J.R., who has a young daughter, and Hannah have entirely different backgrounds, "but I think we get along so well because he is genuine, and he's funny, and I'm pretty humorous - sarcastic - and he can take it and give it. I wish everybody could see the side of him that I have.

"At first, I thought J.R. met with me because he was forced to, but that's not how it is. I can tell. He is turning his life around."

Perhaps J.R. is growing up.

"He wants to live a better life. I want to live a good life," she said.

Karl is noticing a changing of the guard for Smith.

"J.R. is enjoying his service," Karl said. "His consciousness towards what he's doing is sincere and real."

Hannah has three more wishes: She wants J.R. to have an all-star season and "get past his past." At her next Nuggets game she wants "to eat a hot dog ? with sauerkraut," and last, she wants to strengthen her body "because if I do he's going to take me out golfing."

Let us hope all the wishes come true for J.R. Swish and The Fairy Princess.

Woody Paige: 303-954-1095 or wpaige@denverpost.com


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 26, 2009

 

 
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