A sportsman who was looking forward a glittering soccer season in American is facing the biggest challenge of his life after being diagnosed with a rare blood condition.
Goalkeeper Alexander “AJ” Jarvis, 23, was busy preparing for what his Minnesota club expected to be a “banner year” when he received the shock diagnosis of Severe Aplastic Anemia.
The former Downham Town FC keeper has been in America since he was 19 after taking up a scholarship at Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska.
As well as representing the university, Mr Jarvis, a former King’s Lynn Springwood High School and College of West Anglia student, was expecting to rejoin his summer club, Med City FC, for a third season and start a masters degree in business administration in the autumn.
But the illness has seen him go from peak fitness to struggling for breath just walking down stairs.
Mr Jarvis is keeping positive and hopes being in the best physical shape of his life will help him to win his battle.
He had been working hard keeping fit after the pandemic wiped out sport. But around March time he started to feel fatigued and fainted a couple of times.
He said, being stubborn, it wasn’t until he passed out after training he eventually made an appointment see a doctor after his fiancee Hannah True and head coach at Bellevue, Mark Heath-Preston, a former Downham man, persuaded him.
“I made the call and six days later I walked to the doctors – about 300m if that – they took my blood, I walked back, literally sat down on the couch and I got a call to go back,” said Mr Jarvis.
He said his blood levels we so low, they re-tested him several times because they thought the machine had broken.
“They couldn’t believe I was alive let alone walking and talking,” he said.
Subsequent tests included a painful bone biopsy in his back and initially doctors thought he had leukaemia.
Mr Jarvis said it was “the scariest moment” of his life but while tests showed he didn’t have leukaemia, he was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia where his white cells attack his blood and his bone marrow has stopped producing blood.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions. I couldn’t have visitors in there, I was on my own trying to comprehend this. It was three of the most difficult days of my life,” said Mr Jarvis.
Treatment would usually be chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant but as an only child, Mr Jarvis said getting a perfect bone marrow match was “extremely unlikely”.
He would also be at high risk of rejection if he had a transplant.
Instead, Mr Jarvis has had a tube inserted in a bicep which goes into his heart for his blood to be tested and treatment given. He also has medication which both suppresses and re-boots his immune system.
On Mondays and Thursdays he spends around four-and-a-half-hours having tests and if his hemoglobin and platelets are below certain levels, he has transfusions.
“I can feel when it gets to Monday I need it, I’m exhausted,” he said.
The treatment, started last month, continues for six months and doctors hope to see signs of improvement around mid October.
“They have given me an 85 to 90 per cent chance because of fitness. I’m confident my body should be able to fight this off,” said Mr Jarvis who said mentally coming to terms with his condition had been difficult.
Treatment is expected to cost around $700,000 (£531,000) and Med City FC has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay costs which are not covered.
Frank Spaeth, club general manager and co-owner, said Mr Jarvis and Hannah, who are getting married in October, had “financial challenges to overcome”.
In just 24 hours, the fund raised $6,000 and this week it was just over $8,000.
Mr Jarvis said he had been “humbled” and “overwhelmed” by the response and thanked everyone.
“It’s not just the money part but the amount of love and messages of support from people, people who went to Springwood I knew 10 years ago.”
He said players from other teams had also wished him well.
“It has restored my faith in humanity and the lengths people will go to make someone’s life easier,” he said.
Mr Spaeth said everyone at Med City had been amazed at the outpouring of support.
“The bills are overwhelming. Luckily we are eligible for a hospital financial aid scheme and have insurance, but we are still going to be out of pocket by quite a bit,” said Mr Jarvis.
Looking to the future he said: “It has changed everything, the way I look at life, how I go about living my life, how I treat every given situation day-to-day.
“This is a whole new ball game to whatever I thought I would be experiencing. It is difficult to think about soccer. If I do, I miss it.
“We will get the six months out of the way and then figure out a timeline. I want to play out my senior year and my ambition is to be back to how I was prior to this, but it’s an ambition and not a set goal.”
He said the threat of coronavirus was an added worry but he remained mostly indoors apart from hospital appointments. He has been able to watch his team train from a distance and hoped to start his masters at university one class a week, away from others.
Mr Jarvis praised the treatment he had received in America and his “amazing” fiancee.
He said the wedding had given the couple a focus and family back home remained hopeful they might get to the ceremony – depending on restrictions.
Mr Jarvis’ dad Barry Jarvis and step-mum Sarah Livick-Smith live at Grimston, and his mum Gina Jarvis and step-dad Grant Williams live in Northampton.
Former club Downham FC has urged people via Twitter to support the appeal.
Secretary George Dickson, who has known Mr Jarvis since the age of 11, said the club was planning either a donation or a collection. He said AJ worked his way through the club’s youth set up and always showed potential.
“I really hope he fully recovers, he’s a lovely lad, not just a decent footballer,” he said.
Donate by searching https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-aj-battle-lifethreatening-illness?