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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Men’s Basketball Team “Adopts” 10-Year-Old Boy Who Has Hemophilia

By Harry Minium

When you're 10, you shouldn't have to worry about falling down for fear you might cut yourself. You shouldn't have to be concerned about every bruise, knowing you could have internal bleeding.

You shouldn't have to receive an infusion every week or frequently go to the emergency room.

You should be out playing with your friends, running and jumping, roughhousing or playing dodge ball.

But that's not the life Brandon Nowlan lives. Since the day he was born, he's been poked and prodded by doctors and nurses far too many times to count.

Brandon, a shy fifth-grader at Providence Elementary School in Virginia Beach, has hemophilia, a rare blood disorder that usually occurs in males. Because his blood lacks certain proteins, it does not clot well, and his condition is particularly severe.

"I worry about him every day he's at school," said his mother, Eileen Nowlan. "I worry about him when he's with his friends. I just worry about him every time I'm not with him."

But starting Sept. 15, his life got a little brighter. He became an "official" member of the Old Dominion University basketball team, and the Monarchs aim to change his life.

His mom reached out to a group called Team Impact when she read on Facebook about another child being adopted by a college athletic team. Team Impact then contacted Amy Lynch, an academic advisor who works with the ODU basketball team. She proposed that the Monarchs adopt Brandon.

"It was a no-brainer," coach Jeff Jones said.

A "signing" ceremony at the Mitchum Basketball Performance Center.

Brandon shot baskets with the team for about 20 minutes before the ceremony, and the players protected him from ricocheting rebounds.

He broke into a big grin when he signed his "letter of intent."

"By signing this letter of intent," Jones read from the letter, "you are deemed a member of Old Dominion University basketball. This title requires you to carry yourself with pride, honor, respect, sportsmanship and integrity that are expected when you are in the blue and silver."

Brandon and Eileen then put on ODU hats and held up ODU jerseys, just like thousands of high school players do when they sign with college teams.

Lynch said Brandon will be a part of ODU's team for two years. He will go to practices and games when he can. He's never played basketball but is picking up on things quickly.

He has already taken to A.J. Oliver II and Jaylin Hunter, whom he has met on campus a couple of times. When asked to do an interview for WTKR by reporter Marc Davis, he declined unless Oliver and Hunter could accompany him.

"That friendship is going to grow and get closer," Jones said.

That relationship with the team also means a lot to Eileen, her husband, Quinn, and daughter, Isabel, who is four years older than Brandon. They were unable to be at the ceremony but like Brandon's mom, they do their share taking care of Brandon.

"Isabel is my little nurse," Eileen said.

Brandon has needed injections since he was diagnosed. The meds he was taking years ago didn't provide more than a few days of protection, and he often wound up in the emergency room.

Eileen advocated for him, and got him switched to a new, more expensive medication that gives him a week's worth of protection. It costs $75,000 per month, though insurance is picking up most of the cost.

In order to limit his visits to medical centers, Eileen got trained in how to do infusions.

"I infuse him once a week," she said. "Anytime he has an injury, I treat him again.

"It's no fun for him, but he just sits there and lets me do it. When he was younger, it was a little rough getting him to stay still. Now that he knows what we're doing and accepts it, it's a lot easier."

Eileen said she got emotional when he signed the letter of intent. "I was joyful," she said. "Brandon looked so happy."

"We're going to take care of him," Oliver said.

Asked what she hopes others learn from what Brandon is doing, Eileen said: "Just because you have hemophilia doesn't mean you can't do things. Yes, you have limits, but so does everybody."

Jones said there will be no limits on how much he, his staff and players take care of Brandon.

"Hopefully, he will come out of his shell at bit," Jones said. "He's so shy. I hope this becomes a really cool thing for him.

"This is not a photo op. This is a relationship that we intend to continue beyond this year, beyond this season. It's just getting started."

Jones paused, then looked across the court as Brandon spoke with players.

"There's nothing better than seeing a child smile," he said, "especially somebody who has had the kinds of bumps in the road he's had to endure."

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