Apex center Jon Jones walks again after scare

tstevens@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2014 

Apex's Jon Jones practices free-throws during shoot-around before the NCHSAA 4A semifinal playoff game between Apex and Millbrook at Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Jones has overcome Guillain-Barre syndrome, which had him partially paralyzed less than a month ago, to rejoin his team on their run to the state championship game.

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Jon Jones had a great seat last weekend to watch his Apex High basketball teammates win the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys’ Eastern Regional. He would have preferred to be on the court, but he had few complaints sitting next to coach David Neal.

A 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior, Jones walked into the Fayetteville Crown Coliseum on Friday night. Considering no one knew a few weeks ago if he would ever be able to walk, sitting on the bench was a big deal.

Jones had spent three weeks in the hospital with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a condition that temporarily made him unable to control his legs.

There was a possibility the condition could be fatal or at least life-changing.

“To think that he has gone through what he has and is back at practice is unbelievable,” Neal said. “A few weeks ago, Jon playing for us seemed to be an impossibility.”

Jones had a sinus infection during late January. Apex wasn’t practicing the week before the NFL’s Super Bowl because a winter storm had forced the schools to be closed, but he was tired.

He was taking antibiotics for his sinus infection but began to show flu symptoms.

Jones’ fears magnified on Monday, Feb. 3, when he fell as he tried to get out of bed.

“My legs just gave out on me,” said Jones. “My legs just wouldn’t support me.”

He couldn’t get up and was taken to the hospital, where his legs began to twitch uncontrollably.

A two-day barrage of tests at Raleigh Wake Med pointed to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare auto-immune condition that attacks the nervous system. The disorder usually begins with a tingling sensation in the feet.

The Mayo Clinic says GBS affects one or two people out of 100,000. Most people recover, but Guillain-Barre Syndrome can be fatal if the paralysis moves to the body’s core.

“It was incredibly scary,” Neal said. “I’ve coached for 17 years and I have never had a player with an injury or illness that was this scary. I have two sons. I know how much they mean to me.”

There is no known cure for Guillain-Barre Syndrome, according to Mayo, but several treatments can ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness. Jones, who was in intensive care, responded well to his medication, and the numbness never progressed beyond his waist.

He trusted in his doctors.

“I was never all that scared,” he said. “The doctors told me that most people recover completely, but that it takes time. I was worried about missing the season.”

Jones’ physical therapy was expected to last for another five weeks, but he returned to practice Feb. 25, the day before Apex played Fayetteville E.E. Smith in the second round of the playoffs.

“He looked pretty good, but he had absolutely no stamina,” Neal said.

Jones said he was sore and tired after the workout, and he missed the 69-58 win against Smith.

He was at practice the next day, though, and sat with Neal on the bench during the 64-63 last-second win against Northern Durham.

“It was really frustrating sitting there,” Jones said. “I thought I could help the team. I’m close to being back to where I was. I can jump as high. I just don’t have the same fitness.”

Apex (22-7) will play Lake Norman (28-1) for the state 4A title at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.

Jones has not played in a game since his return, but he believes he is ready if needed.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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