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Alive and kicking: Holly is Elizabethton's football miracle

Douglas Fritz • Sep 27, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Describing the routine act of kicking an extra point as a miracle might belong in the domain of hyperbole.

But when Elizabethton High School’s football team lines up for the try, everybody in the stadium has the chance to witness a blessed young man who is fortunate to be alive and walking — let alone having the athletic ability to be one of the area’s best kickers.

Nine years ago, kicking a football wasn’t on Jaxton Holly’s mind. Drawing his next breath was the 8-year-old’s main focus.

After waking up on a February morning, Jaxton told his dad, Jason, he was hurting.

“He said, ‘Dad, my legs are killing me,’ ” said Jason. “He had played a couple of basketball games the night before, so I thought he was just sore.”

Later that day, Jaxton was going through pregame warmups for another game. Jason noticed Jaxton looked slow. During the game an opposing player blew past Jaxton, who simply stood there.

“I told my wife there was something wrong,” said Jason.

Jaxton said he knew something wasn’t right.

“It was weird,” he said. “I was usually one of the faster kids, but I couldn’t outrun anybody. It just happened. My muscles were so weak.”

Jaxton was taken to the children’s hospital at Johnson City Medical Center, where he continued to get weaker. His condition worsened to the point where he was placed on a ventilator.

Jaxton had contracted rhabdomyolysis, which caused the muscles to break down. and myoglobinuria formed in his blood. As a result, there was damage to his kidneys.

“It was like concrete in the kidneys, and it shut the kidneys down,” said Jason. “They tried to keep fluids in him, but they hadn’t seen it to this degree.”

Jaxton faced an extremely tough battle.

“Things got really bad for me,” said Jaxton, who these days is a 6-foot, 160-pound senior at Elizabethton High School. “They said (the complications) came from the H1N1 flu virus.”

The problem spread into Jaxton’s breathing muscles.

“He was like a fish out of water,” said Jason. “They put him into a medically induced coma.”

Jaxton’s parents were able to stay by his side at the hospital because a village of helpers made a way.

“Grandparents, family and friends stepped up to help care for his younger brother (Braden) and sister (Madison),” said Jason. “The community outreach was unbelievable. We could not have done it without them. Through Facebook, people all around the world reached out to pray for us. The power of prayer is an amazing thing.”

With Jaxton’s struggles increasing, doctors decided to place him on a medical flight to Nashville. They informed his parents that Jaxton might not survive the journey to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“What I was told was he was too sick to stay and too sick to go,” said Jason. “The words to me were, ‘Good luck.’ They just didn’t know if he would make it there.

“Honestly you’re just not prepared. When we left Johnson City and I walked out of his room, I didn’t know if he would make it back here.”

The flight turned out to be a blessing.

“The rhythm of the plane got my breathing back to a natural rhythm,” said Jaxton.

Jason said the different pressure in the aircraft also played a role in helping Jaxton.

“He actually started turning the corner on the plane,” said Jason.

At Vanderbilt, doctors treated Jaxton, but there wasn’t a straight-line approach toward healing because of the unique nature of the diseases attacking him. Eventually one of his lungs collapsed, and his liver was at risk at one point.

“Pneumonia set in and that turned us back a little,” said Jason. “It was horrific, seeing him with tubes down his nose and into his lungs. It was horrible.”

But in his darkest moments, Jaxton’s miracle came into focus. He said he came to consciousness while on the ventilator and believes he saw Jesus.

“It was a white figure with long hair, like you see in pictures and stuff,” said Jaxton. “I saw it for a reason.”

There was no specific treatment that cured Jaxton. He simply got better.

“Since I saw Jesus, I really can’t doubt it anymore,” Jaxton said. “I saw it with my eyes. Doing nothing for three weeks, and then just coming out of it one day, it’s just a miracle. It just doesn’t happen every day. It makes me thankful for everything because it can all be taken away.”

Jason said after the ordeal was over, he asked Jaxton if he had been scared.

“He said, ‘No, not really,’ ” said Jason. “He said, ‘Jesus was sitting at the end of my bed. I never really worried about it because he was just there. I just know he was there.’ ”

Jason said there were plenty of God moments during the trial, including a visit from a German doctor.

“He was the leading expert on rhabdomyolysis and he just happened to be on Vanderbilt’s campus,” said Jason. “He said it would be OK, but it would take a while.”

Out of danger, Jaxton still had plenty of recovery ahead. He had lost 20 percent of his body mass.

“He had to learn to walk again, run again, feed himself, write,” said Jason. “It was physically devastating for him. But he’s a stubborn bird.”

Jaxton said the recovery process lasted about six months, but he added, “I will probably never be full strength again. But I am strong enough to play sports. I can’t really see a difference in how I compete.”

Looking back, Jason said the ordeal was a faith-growing experience.

“As parents you just want to fix it,” said Jason. “You forget somebody else is in control of the whole thing. This is one of things that taught us to have faith. God blessed us and healed him. But we had to be prepared if it wasn’t God’s plan to heal him. God had the situation. We just had to sit back and let go.”

Jaxton has been a terrific kicker for the Cyclones, who are 4-0 heading into Friday’s game against Cherokee. He is 22 of 22 on extra points this year, and has made 36 in a row dating back to last year. He is 79 of 80 since the beginning of his junior season.

“I practice all the time,” said Jaxton, who hasn’t attempted a field goal this season. “It’s muscle memory. And it’s only 20 yards away, so you should make those every time.”

But it’s not just about kicking for Holly.

He is also a backup quarterback for the Cyclones — taking after his dad, who made the cover of the Johnson City Press preseason football edition back in 1990 as a Cyclone quarterback.

Still, Jaxton’s niche is kicking, and he’s fine with it.

“The action at quarterback is an adrenaline rush,” said Jaxton, whose brother is his holder for kick attempts. “But it’s not the same as kicking. The pressure is on you when you kick. The whole game stops. I think there’s more pressure, and I would pick kicking over playing quarterback.”

Jaxton is talking to the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut about continuing his kicking career in college, and perhaps taking the first steps toward law school to follow in the footsteps of Jason.

For now, Jason and his family are soaking up the memories from Jaxton’s final year of high school competition.

“To see him on Friday night with his brother holding for him, it’s pretty cool,” Jason said.

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