- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Tavaris Jeffries is used to being in a battle. He is a football player, and an offensive lineman at that. Every time the ball is snapped, whether during his college days at Oklahoma or during his journeyman career in minor-league football, he has to fight.

But for the past few weeks, he has been on the sideline.

His month-old daughter is the one in the fight now. She needs a heart transplant.

“Right now, I really need one of those miracles that I’ve read about in the Bible or seen on TV,” Jeffries said via telephone as he held baby Taylor in her hospital room in Dallas. “Walking on water. Healing the blind.

“I need one of those right now.”

A year ago this month, the sports world became captivated by the story of Devon Still, the Cincinnati Bengals lineman whose young daughter was diagnosed with cancer. He slept by her bedside. He put his career on hold, The Oklahoman reported (http://bit.ly/1Bks6eZ ).

Tavaris Jeffries is doing the exact same thing.

“I never thought in a million years this would be my story,” he said. “I never thought I would be the guy at the hospital holding his child, needing a heart.”

Tavaris Jeffries’ name may not be all that familiar even to the most die-hard Sooner fans.

The Memphis native was a junior college transfer in 2009 when he started a handful of games. The next season, he was overtaken on the depth chart. He never played much after that.

But his football career wasn’t over. He bounced around the minor leagues ever since. Arena League Football in Spokane, Washington. Indoor Football League in Kennewick, Washington. Lone Star Football League in San Angelo, Texas. Canadian Football League in Vancouver and Ottawa.

There were several points along the way when he thought his football days were done. After his stint in Vancouver with the BC Lions, for instance, he went to one of the NFL’s regional combines. He did so well that he made it all the way to the end - then he tore his hamstring.

“It went kind of downhill,” he said.

But he prayed and healed and trained and scored a chance in Ottawa with the Redblacks - only to tear his hamstring again.

Another downhill slide. More prayer and healing and training followed.

Then earlier this year, Jeffries got a call that he wasn’t sure would ever come. Spokane wanted to give him another shot, and he signed in March.

That meant leaving his family. Wife, Sha’Raye, is in the Air Force stationed at Barksdale in Shreveport, Louisiana, and in addition to their toddler son, Nicholas, they were expecting a daughter.

Even though doctors detected an abnormality with the baby’s umbilical cord - she had one artery going through instead of two - tests determined everything else was fine. She had a normal heart rate. She had no indicators for Down syndrome.

Tavaris and Sha’Raye felt like they’d dodged a bullet.

Because the umbilical cord was missing an artery, doctors scheduled a C-section. Tavaris came back to Shreveport from Spokane to be with Sha’Raye and to welcome Taylor into the world.

“Everything went fine,” he said. “She came out crying, screaming, normal.”

But a few hours later, doctors told Tavaris and Sha’Raye that Taylor was having respiratory problems. She was struggling to transition her breathing, so she was placed in intensive care.

After a week, her condition improved. It felt like another bullet had been dodged.

Taylor went home, and Tavaris went back to Spokane.

Tavaris talked to Sha’Raye and the kids on Skype every day, but what he saw and heard wasn’t always great.

Taylor was still having problems. She wasn’t eating. She was vomiting. She had thrush and high stomach acid, and even though doctors gave her some medicine, they told Sha’Raye to take her to the emergency room if she didn’t stop throwing up.

Finally one afternoon when Tavaris was on his way to practice, Sha’Raye decided to take Taylor to the hospital. Doctors poked and prodded the baby for hours before hitting on a diagnosis.

The medical term: left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy.

The layman’s description: the left side of her heart wasn’t pumping, and the right side was overloading trying to make up for it.

Taylor would need a heart transplant.

Tavaris took the first flight home.

Home for the Jeffries family has now become the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas where Taylor is awaiting her heart.

Tavaris and Sha’raye alternate shifts at the hospital. One takes the day. One takes the night.

“Because we don’t want her to be alone,” Tavaris said.

She has been moved to the top of the waiting list because of her urgent need. She takes medicine to help her heart and take some of the pressure off the right side. She had a recent procedure to test her body’s ability to accept a donor heart. It was a success.

Now comes waiting.

And praying.

While good friends launched a Go Fund Me campaign online - Tavaris admits that because of the current and future expenses that insurance won’t cover, the family will gratefully accept your dollar and cents - what the family needs most right now is your prayers. Tavaris has asked for it on social media. He has prayed for it. He has cried over it.

“My mindset was … ” Tavaris said, then he stopped himself.

He laughed.

“It sounds crazy, but if I could get a million people to pray for her, (God) would have to hear at least 10. I want to flood His mailbox to the point where He has no choice but to come down and put His hands on her.”

Tavaris Jeffries is still in a battle. He just believes this is one that he will win not with physical strength but with divine intervention.

He finds himself clinging to that belief every time he looks at his little girl. Even though she is hooked up to all sorts of monitors and tubes, she will smile when he walks in the room or grab at his facial hair when he holds her.

He has to be strong for her.

“But it’s hard,” he said softly. “It really is.”

His baby girl needs a heart, and in the meantime, he prays that his will keep her alive.

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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