New Kent comes together for student in need of heart transplant

Tidewater area residents are coming together to support a New Kent High School student in need of a heart transplant.

Juan Mikel-Jones is a sophomore who loves being active on the varsity football and wrestling teams and takes all honors classes. He was recently diagnosed with a serious heart condition known as viral cardiomyopathy after he started coughing and developed a bad cold just a few weeks ago, New Kent High School Principal Christopher Valdrighi said.

“I got a text message a couple of weeks ago from our athletic director, John Spiak, who works very closely with Juan,” Valdrighi said. “Juan is one of his student assistant workers. He said Juan had had a cold, like a bad cough for just a few weeks. Next thing he knew, Juan was in the hospital and needed a heart transplant, and that sort of got the whole ball rolling.”

Valdrighi went to see Mikel-Jones after he was transferred to University Hospital in Charlottesville. A few days later on Friday, Dec. 29, Mikel-Jones underwent extensive surgery to have a LVAD (left ventricular assist device) put in to pump his heart until he is able to get a transplant.

Valdrighi said that the explanation for Mikel-Jones condition has yet to be found.

“He’s basically suffered heart failure as a 17-year-old,” Valdrighi said. “A super athletic and active 17-year-old.”

Valdrighi wants to reach out and help all of his students and their families. Valdrighi said that helping a positive kid like Mikel-Jones in a situation like this is a no-brainer.

“I’ve never seen him not smile, or heard him say a bad word about another person,” Valdrighi said. “He’s a positive kid, he’s the kind of kid that every teacher wants to have in class, every principal wants to have in their building and every parent wants to have in their house.”

People in New Kent County and surrounding areas have donated money to Juan and his family, and have pledged their support on Twitter using the hashtags #HelpJuan and #NewKentStrong. The New Kent High School Twitter account also tweets supportive messages and updates about Mikel-Jones. Valdrighi says that he tears up every time he thinks about everyone coming together.

“It’s everything you want it to be; it’s just an amazing community, in good times and bad,” Valdrighi said. “There are so many people, that don’t even know Juan. He’s a super kid; he’s got a super family. People just immediately say “what can we do?” No questions asked, it’s just unbelievable.”

“Our whole local community is the perfect area to support something like this,” Valdrighi said. “I can’t think of a better reason to support somebody than what he’s going through.”

There are various fundraisers and ways to help raise money for Juan and his family. There is a GoFundMe page called “Helping with Juan’s expenses,” that has so far raised $7,805 out of the $15,000 goal, as of midday Monday.

New Kent High School assistant principal Julie Ellis, has personally set up two fundraisers to help Mikel-Jones.

Julie Ellis and her husband, Ray, were thinking about visiting Bethpage Camp-Resort in Middlesex when her husband came up with the idea to do a polar plunge for Mikel-Jones.

“Ray posted on social media and said that if people donate $500, that he will do a polar plunge, and we raised about $3,500,” Ellis said. “People donated from Williamsburg, Middlesex and even Maryland.”

The plunge took place on Jan. 5 at Bethpage Camp-Resort on the Rappahannock River.

“There were five participants, including my husband, Ray, and managers of the campground,” Ellis said.

Ellis also set up a fundraiser at restaurant Colonial Kitchen in New Kent, located at 11861 New Kent Hwy. The fundraiser was originally set for Thursday, Jan. 4, but was rescheduled due to the snow storm.

Takyra Sully, Mikel-Jones’ stepmother, said that all said the support has been a pleasant surprise.

“It’s great that people are coming together in support for my stepson,” Sully said. “I mean I didn’t expect for it to happen this way, we’re not celebrities or anything like that. So the fact that this has come about, I’m really glad about that. All of the support that Juan, his father and all of us can get is wonderful.”

Fundraiser

Where: Colonial Kitchen

When: all day on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m.

How: 20 percent of the sales will go to help Juan and his family.

GoFundMe: gofundme.com/helping-with-juans-expenses.

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