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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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Tanner’s legacy

September 3, 2008 by Darren Shimp

The jersey numbers 3 and 15 were always important to Tanner Homminga. But on March 15, around 3:15 p.m., the numbers became cemented in the minds of his friends, family and everyone who were blessed to have Tanner in their presence.

At Spokane Falls Community College for a soccer match in a five-on-five tournament, 14-year-old Tanner began experiencing severe head pains on the walk back to the parking lot from his 30-minute game. He then held his head and fell to the ground.

Tanner was rushed to the hospital, and since there was a parent doctor on the scene, phone calls made it such that there were neurosurgeons ready for surgery upon his arrival.

After thorough examination, it was determined that Tanner had suffered a rupture from a condition known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is the leading cause of stroke in young people, a malady which strikes only one out of every 250,000 people. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines AVM as “defects of the circulatory system that are generally believed to arise during embryonic or fetal development or soon after birth.”

The symptoms include severe headaches, seizures or brain hemorrhages – symptoms Tanner had not shown signs of in his 14 years, most of which were dedicated to playing sports, which were his love in life; that, along with friends and family. He was a soccer fanatic, a basketball junkie and a fan of the North Carolina Tar Heel blue and Allen Iverson – hence the jersey number 3.

The condition which was simmering in Tanner’s brain went undiagnosed, to the fault of no one. Either he had headaches which increased his pain tolerance, or the AVM just plain did not show itself until that Saturday in March.

The surgery revealed that the AVM burst left a four-inch blood clot in his brain, which is nearly the height of a can of soda. With the condition nearly inoperable, Tanner was put into a medically-induced coma for 41 days, with minimal activity at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Unfortunately, Tanner’s body did not react well to the inducing, as his blood pressure continually remained high, causing two more strokes in his already fragile state following brain surgery.

There was nothing doctors or anyone else could do to make him lead a normal life again, despite all the kind words, support and prayers the Hommingas had received. An autographed Iverson jersey and armband arrived as a showing of respect for what Tanner had accomplished in youth sports, but even a gift from his idol couldn’t pull Tanner out of his coma.

He was moved into a hospice house for his last week of life, and passed away April 24 at 12:40 a.m.

Months later, with Tanner’s memory still strong in the hearts of family, friends, teammates and coaches, his legacy of being a talent both on and off the field (he was also an honor roll student at East Valley Middle School) continues into the fall months, as he would have begun his high school years this week at East Valley High School.

“He was an amazing kid… always happy,” said Kala Homminga, Tanner’s mother. “He was the kind of kid who saw what he wanted in the future, and did whatever he could to get there.”

She told of a story where Tanner had such a severe case of bronchitis, doctors warned him it would be dangerous to be physically active, in one of the few times he finally let his body rest. He sat on the sidelines with sweatpants on, his uniform underneath.

Not being on the field ate at Tanner on the inside that day, even though he was obviously sick, he felt he was letting his team down by letting his body win.

“He couldn’t stand that,” Kala said. “He had more drive than any kid I know.”

A huge part of Tanner’s life was not only playing sports, but watching them on ESPN as well.

His competitive drive was so intense that if one of his favorite teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, lost on television, he would go into his room, blast his rap music and annihilate whatever team dared to defeat the Cowboys on his PlayStation 3.

Growing up, Tanner would find more joy in a basketball and hoop than any other toy. He had a hoop on his walker as an infant, and was shooting baskets at a mini-hoop at age 2.

Once old enough to play competitively, Tanner was the team’s star, leading his youth squad in scoring nearly every time out, but was still a quintessential team player at the same time.

Coaches and friends were so impressed with Tanner’s skills and passion, they encouraged him to play soccer, a sport he had never really tried before.

That is when the passion multiplied, as soccer was a sport he could be a team leader with and run, run, run.

Tanner’s presence impacted his friends off the field as well, as he and his friends had perennial appearances on honor roll lists.

Months later, as his mates begin their journey through high school, the memory of their fallen friend will never leave them. They wear wristbands donning Tanner’s two jersey numbers: 3 for hoops, 15 for soccer, along with “Tanner Homminga in our prayers.”

The impact a young man with a drive that never stalled left on friends, coaches and his own mother will never be forgotten.

Kala also told the story of a visit to a relative’s house who was “quite well off.”

Surrounded by a nice house, vehicles and belongings, Tanner said to his mother, “This is what I want in life.”

“The money?” Kala responded.

“No, the awards,” Tanner said. The relative was a successful athlete of her own in basketball, and had played on scholarship in Hawaii, and over time had accumulated many trophies and plaques of her own.

Tanner had dreams of playing both basketball and soccer for the University of North Carolina, a combination quite unique for a multi-sport athlete, but Tanner was committed to finding a way to make it happen.

With his memory still fresh on the community’s mind, the outpouring of support for the Hommingas continues.

Dedicated soccer tournaments, spaghetti feeds, tattoos, backboards at Hoopfest, benches at parks, the aforementioned bracelets, necklaces featuring “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)… the list of honors and remembrances do nothing but fill Kala’s heart with more love for her lost son.

“I am more proud of him now, than I thought would ever be possible,” Kala said. “He surrounded himself with such amazing people, and to see how people come together… they have helped me in so many ways.”

The parents continue to call Kala; they go out to lunch, where they laugh, cry and talk about Tanner.

She has no regrets, knowing he passed away doing what he loved most: competing, and being surrounded by friends and family.

For more on his story, or to leave kind messages to his friends and family, please check out a page dedicated to Tanner and everything he stood for, www.caringbridge.org/visit/tannerhomminga.

Story by Darren Shimp. You can reach Darren at darren@htsports.org.


2 comments:

Yendor said...

A really bitter sweet story. It shows how lucky we are to still have you with us after your AVM burst.....

DelorumRex said...

Deal...