The nearly unbearable burden of sitting, day after day, by his son’s hospital bed was a challenge for which Rickey Pinkney, Jr. could not prepare.
Pinkney, a U.S. Army Reserve member and former Purdue University track and field star, was told his son, Jahvon, had a golf ball-sized tumor over his brain stem in September 2017. The tumor was a rare growth called Choroid Plexus Papilloma or CPP. It typically causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, vision and balance problems, among other symptoms.
“As a parent, as a human, I wasn’t ready for that news when they showed it to me on that screen,” Pinkney, who spent seven years on active duty in the Army, said of the X-Ray depicting the tumor. “And when I asked them, ‘OK, what’s the treatment plan?’ They said there is no treatment plan.”
Doctors delivered the sobering news that there was no time for a second opinion. In fact, Jahvon had to remain in the hospital for immediate surgery, a procedure that lasted seven hours. During the operation, Jahvon suffered a stroke, which rendered medication to fight the condition impractical. Since he was in the middle of surgery, the blood-thinning medication would have led to massive blood loss.
It takes you to a dark place
Instead, Jahvon, then 8, had to fight the stroke on his own. After waking from surgery, he experienced a loss of vision, his hearing was diminished, and half of his body was paralyzed. Recovery meant spending 4 ½ months in two different hospitals. The first two months was at a hospital 45 minutes from their Copperas Cove, Texas home. He was later transferred to a hospital in Ft. Worth, requiring a 2 ½ hour, one-way commute for his father.
Doing the best he could to put on a brave face and support his son, Pinkney, owner of Team Pinkney Mixed Martial Arts, was forced to rely on skills he acquired in several aspects of his life, including martial arts. The biggest and most important of all was patience.
“As a parent, it takes you to a dark place,” he said. “The patience that a martial arts can bring you … When all else fails and your coach or your professor is telling you to hold on to what I’ve been teaching you, eventually it will work. You may not see it right now, but keep doing what I’m telling you and eventually you will get the results you want. That’s the type of mindset you have to have when you’re in that dark place. My whole universe sucks right now, I've got to keep holding on because this child who is laying here, I’m all he has in his eyes and if he sees me break, then in his head, what else is there for him?”
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel
That ethos helped guide Pinkney as every day for nearly the first month felt touch and go for the oldest of his two sons. Jahvon’s right lung collapsed three days following surgery. He then had to fight off an intense bout with pneumonia. Days later his heart rate spiked and nothing they gave him would alleviate the issue. In time, his heart rate returned to normal. Additionally, he fought off: air embolisms, a blood clot, cerebral ataxia, pulmonary and cerebral edemas, among many other complications.
In all of that commotion, Jahvon’s little body had to endure a total of five surgeries in two months.
During those trying times, a book authored by 9th Degree Black Belt Carlos Machado, Putting the Pieces Together, provided nuggets of wisdom, placing the ordeal in perspective.
“He doesn't just talk about Jiu Jitsu in that book, he talks about how to apply it to life,” Pinkney said. “The things we do on the mat, the mindset we have to have on the mat, that translates to life … These were little things that helped me on those days where Jahvon was on his deathbed and it just seemed like the whole world came crashing down again. All I could think to myself was, sometimes there’s going to be more bad moments than good, but what keeps you whole is not just believing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but doing everything you can to walk towards it. Staying in that shadow does nothing for you. Keeping those negative thoughts, does nothing for you, especially when we’re taught that it’s mind over matter.”
The combination of a positive outlook, support from family, friends, as well as strangers helped them get to Jahvon’s 9th birthday on November 15, while still at the first hospital. On that day, Jahvon was asked what he wanted and his answer was simple: To walk.
Although doctors weren’t sure he could do it, Jahvon was fitted for a walker and made his way into one of the Baylor Scott & White McLane Children's Medical Center hallways. Nurses gathered on each side, creating a tunnel for Jahvon.
There, Jahvon got his birthday wish. He walked.
Jahvon, whose most recent surgery took place in January to repair a broken shunt, is the embodiment of the resilience found in those who practice martial arts. He has since made a successful recovery, running around and playing like a typical 10-year-old kid, with just a few limits.
Following his stint in the hospital, Jahvon needed a full year of intense physical recovery at Centex Rehabilitation. That process was led by Dr. Jenni Keeney, Dr. Jason Miller and Sarah Carpenter. He now has emotional rehabilitation at home, giving him the tools to cope with the psychological scars of his medical crisis. As part of that program, Jahvon received a therapy dog, named Thanos, from Eric Acosta's Gator Grip Kennels in Florence, Texas.
Commit to the end of the road, which is success
As a child, Pinkney dabbled in practically everything a kid could. But his education in martial arts began back in West Palm Beach with his introduction to Judo and later Karate.
Since that time, Pinkney, now 34, has amassed 16 years of experience in Judo, 12 years in Karate, 13 years in Jiu Jitsu, and 10 years in Jeet Kune Do. He’s earned a black belt in both Judo and Karate and has a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu.
Pinkney, a single father raising sons Jahvon and Dareios, has earned two Master's degrees, modeled, raced motorcycles, fought in several MMA bouts (accumulating a 19-2 record), and landed acting roles in Carter High (2015), American Crime Season 2 (2016), and 1040 Not So EZ (2017).
“I was always that kid that had to be doing something,” said Pinkney, who was a three-time Big Ten Champion (2005-7) in the hurdles and All-American selection before earning his degree from Purdue University in 2007. “I’ve done everything from football, track and field, basketball, marching band, solo, ensemble, concert band, jazz band. I was on the Chess team at one point, swimming and diving. Martial arts was just the culmination of it all and I think I missed it so much.”
Missing martial arts led to him, while still running track at Purdue University in 2006, to try Jiu Jitsu. It has been a 13 year love affair that has blossomed into a course in how to handle whatever life throws your way.
“One of those things is having patience in the midst of a storm. And when I say a storm, some times in Jiu Jitsu, you get so anxious to be on the attack, you want to try and submit your opponent,” Pinkney said. “You want to get that advantageous position, but when it comes down to it, it’s really about the survival. Sometimes when you have that opponent who just won’t let you have your way, sometimes you have to survive and that’s where the patience comes in. Be patient enough to get an opening and then when I get that opening I make them pay.
“I see that a lot in life where we want to have our way and when it's not going our way, we freak out because of factors most of the time we can’t even control. The stars align that day for us to have a horrible day or horrible month and they only way to outlast it is patience. As soon as we get our opening, then that’s when we commit to the end of the road, which is success.”
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