Jack Jolly went into cruise control after one of Carolina Forest’s recent baseball wins.
Like he had done after so many of his 435 career victories, his answers to reporters’ questions was his own brand of coach-speak. He politely answered, but with a selective vocabulary meant to appease newspaper and television reporters without demeaning the opponent.
Absent of thought, he dropped in a word that has become watered down to include something as trivial as a pitcher having a bad inning or a stud hitter striking out.
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If there is anything Jolly knows lately, it is uphill climbs. It has nothing to do with baseball.
That the Panthers coach said or later posted it on Twitter wasn’t an insult to anything his family has been through in recent months. In fact, his ability to nonchalantly use the term was a credit to his wife, Pam, his son, Lucas, and the four other Jolly children.
“They’ve allowed me to be where my feet are,” Jack Jolly said. “When I’m with Lucas, I try to be all there and not worry about what’s happening with baseball. When I’m with baseball, I can be there.”
During what could be described as the most impressive season in the school’s history, the sport hasn’t been the Jolly family’s top priority. Even with 20-year-old Robert coming into his own while playing for Clemson or 24-year-old Matthew helping out with video production for Coastal Carolina’s ranked program, seeing Lucas through a medical ordeal has been job No. 1.
‘I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WEGENER’S WAS’
At Carolina Forest, the show choir and drama departments frequently draw headlines sports teams envy and have racked up plenty of awards to prove it.
Parents and even those with no ties to the school pack the auditorium for nights of plays or singing or dancing or a combination of the three.
His father’s love of baseball may not have been passed to Lucas Jolly, but the sense of teamwork and performance was just as strong on the stage. He joined the two organizations and loved every minute of it.
“I had something that was my own in my family,” Lucas said. “Most of my siblings had their sports or something they did. It took me a while to figure something that I could do. I didn’t play sports, so at times I kind of felt like an outcast. But when I finally found out what I wanted to do, that was the best part of it. I found a place where I felt like I belonged.”
In October of last year, all of that started being taken from him.
Everything we tried, it seemed like he was getting a little better and then it would be right back to where he had no energy, his head was hurting all the time. He wasn’t sleeping.
Lucas Jolly started to feel different, something that was originally credited to the change of seasons and allergies. Weeks passed, and the breathing problems continued. Maybe it was just a bad cold.
The family physician prescribed medication to knock out a potential infection; the signs matched the diagnosis.
“That was tough because we thought we were doing everything we could,” Pam Jolly said. “We don’t blame the doctors because his symptoms were just like that of a bad cold or a sinus infection. We had talked about having his wisdom teeth out because he was having headaches. … Everything we tried, it seemed like he was getting a little better and then it would be right back to where he had no energy, his head was hurting all the time. He wasn’t sleeping.”
After a failed attempt to extract his wisdom teeth in December (the surgeon was unable to successfully administer anesthesia because of the breathing problems), he was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Almost immediately, a new diagnosis was revealed. Lucas Jolly, the specialist said and then confirmed through a biopsy, had Wegener’s, officially known as Granulomatosis with polyangiitis. The disease slows blood flow to organs, according to the Mayo Clinic Web site, but in the immediate causes inflammation in the blood vessels in and around the nose, throat, sinus cavities and lungs.
“I had no idea what Wegener’s was,” Lucas said, something his mother later repeated. “We had never heard of it.”
As uncommon as it is, especially for someone under the age of 40, it is treatable. Just the same, a matter of days before practice for a promising Carolina Forest baseball season opened, Jack Jolly was informed that his fourth child had a potentially fatal disease.
The reminders came daily, via intravenous drugs, prescriptions for others and consistent trips to the doctor. They also reared their ugly head because of something most consider harmless.
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
As winter turned to spring, Lucas Jolly appeared to be on the right path. He was able to resume many of his day-to-day activities, although he did back out of show choir. He didn’t want to leave anyone hanging should he need to miss days or wasn’t up for a performance.
“It was getting harder to push through rehearsals and dance numbers. I did try to power through at first,” he said. “I realized it was getting too hard, and I didn’t think I would be able to get through an entire show. I kind of felt relieved because I didn’t have to worry about pulling through for my dance partner.”
More importantly, he was staying up with his school work and remained on track toward graduation on June 4. On the field at the backside of the high school, his dad’s baseball team was fulfilling its lofty expectations.
The Panthers were ranked No. 1 in the state’s largest class, clinched the Region VI-AAAA title and preparing to open the postseason at home. Four days before Spring Valley came to town for a first-round game, something had gone wrong.
Lucas, along with his brothers and sisters were all recipients of the chicken pox vaccine. But with immunosuppressants for the Wegener’s in his system, Lucas’ was rendered obsolete when he was exposed sometime in mid-April. A rite of passage for many youth could be deadly with for someone with a lessened immune system, and equally dangerous for something with a condition affecting the airways.
Doctors took no chances, flying Lucas to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. He had previously been there only for outpatient procedures. This time, he was placed in a clean room to cut down on contagions, and on May 3, he underwent surgery – his fourth overall – to further correct the breathing issues.
The ear, nose and throat specialist there who started a revamped course of treatment to hopefully put the ailment challenging Lucas’ breathing into a sleeper hold of its own.
The Jollys had good news, news they heavily attributed to their faith. Between family, friends and other members of their church who visited, friendly faces were frequently around.
Even with all the support, the biggest cheerleader of Carolina Forest baseball abandoned her regular spot just outside the fence by first base. Pam Jolly balked at the idea of leaving Charleston until her son did.
“I tried to kick her out of the hospital and get her to go get a night of sleep in a bed,” Jack Jolly said. “She refused.”
The day after the surgery, a day prior to Carolina Forest winning a district championship and exactly one month before his expected graduation, Lucas Jolly came home.
The pictures that cycled through social media – and others that didn’t – showed something truly special about the Jolly family.
A series of visuals include Jack, Pam, Matthew, Rebecca, Robert, and Grace in the hospital with smiles negating obvious fatigue. Even Lucas, whose face is covered by a mask, had a look of someone who hadn’t been poked and prodded and cut open multiple times.
“He’s had his moments. But he’s held it together,” Pam said. “That makes it easier on his parents, too. That makes us strong and brave.”
Day by day, it seems, the family has added plenty of milestones this month. Last weekend, Rebecca Jolly graduated with magna cum laude honors and Matthew earned his Master’s in education, both from Coastal Carolina.
Mother’s Day included a trip to Clemson to see Robert’s game. On Monday, Carolina Forest won a crucial game that allowed Friday’s Lower State championship game to be played at home. The Panthers need just one more victory to advance to next week’s state championship series, another would-be first for the program.
There were more questions after that last win, more notoriety for a team that has done everything it has this season while its coach watched his son fight a real battle. It was made easier, Jolly said, with help from assistants Brian Brunson and Tom Pasco, principal Gaye Driggers and athletic director Tripp Satterwhite.
“Jack is a professional,” Satterwhite said. “Really, he’s a man of God. The whole time, he’s taken it as it comes. He’s kept it all in balance, kept it all in check. Thankfully, he’s surrounded himself with good people.”
None more than the Jolly inner circle.
Together, they have come up with a plan for the mostly homebound Lucas to wrap up his semester. An instructor has been hired, and the siblings have continued to pitch in since Pam exhausted all of her time off from her position as an aide at Carolina Forest Elementary.
“Anything to get him across that stage,” Jack said.
When that day comes, it will be after yet another high-water mark.
Lucas Jolly turns 18 next Friday. His dad has had to cite May 20 ad nauseam since January, be it for doctors or pharmacists. He drops a joke about having a nickel for every time he has.
If the sense of humor is coming from a position of strength, the strength is coming from Lucas.
“I’ve felt a sort of peace through this whole process. It hasn’t been that hard to keep my spirits up,” Lucas said. “Of course, there are days when everything comes at me at once, but usually those don’t last.
“I don’t really know how to go through it any other way. I don’t see any reason to dwell on what’s going wrong. I just focus on what’s going right – all the blessings we’ve received through this, from family members and our church. It’s just where I focus on the positives, not dwell on what I’ve missed out on.”
High school baseball playoffs
Class AAAA Lower State final
Summerville at Carolina Forest, 5:30 p.m.
Class AAA Lower State final
Airport/Hilton Head Island at St. James, TBD
Class AA Lower State final
Bishop England at Aynor, 6 p.m.