SALT LAKE CITY — A remarkable boy embarking on life's final journey has captured hearts all over the world, including that of a former BYU football player.
Andrew Rich was so moved by Mitchell Jones' story, he asked to meet him.
"I look up to you. You are stronger than anyone I have ever met. That is why I wanted to meet you," said Rich, who first heard Mitchell's story on KSL last week.
Mitchell has Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a disease that is rapidly destroying his heart.
"We think life is full of suffering but we can choose how we respond to it."
"When we told Mitchell about Andrew he made sure I found his BYU shirt," said his mother, Natalie Jones.
Rich's visit helped lift Mitchell's spirits. Sunday had been a rough day for him physically.
"His oxygen levels are low and that makes him anxious," said his father, Chris Jones.
But when Rich rang the doorbell, Mitchell's face lit up. The 10-year-old is normally shy around strangers, but beamed when Rich sat down next to him.
"I've never really battled anything you've battled. I want you to know I look up to you," said Rich as he handed Mitchell a tattered and worn glove. "This is actually the glove I used in the last football game I played. It means a lot to me. I want you to have this glove and know I look to you as a hero."
The glove wasn't the only surprise Rich brought.
"I actually have someone that wants to talk to you," Rich said as he dialed a number on his phone.
A man answered and Rich responded, "Coach Mendenhall, hey, I am sitting here with Mitch, and we were talking football and I thought I would give you a call."
"Mitch, I hear you are tough. If Andrew thinks you are tough, that's like you've reached a black belt," BYU football head coach Bronco Mendenhall said through the phone. "Way to go. I am proud of you."
How to help:
A Mitchell Jones Donation Account has been set up at Zions Bank
Letters can be mailed to:
5526 W. 13400 S. #102
Rich told the Jones family he wanted to reach out to them because his 10-month-old son Harper also has a fragile heart.
"He's had two open-heart surgeries, and Primary Children's (Medical Center) has kind of been our second home," explained Rich. "I always thought football was the most important thing until I had my son."
It is that sacred bond of family that Mitchell's father often writes about, along with the trials that put into perspective what matters most. His journal entries on the Facebook page "Mitchell's Journey" are followed by more than 14,000 people.
"We think life is full of suffering, but we can choose how we respond to it," said Chris.
Jones family members choose to treasure the moments they have left with their son and brother. They choose to learn from his example.
"We just love him because he always makes us laugh," said his sister, Laura-Ashley.
They choose to embrace the kindness of friends and strangers who have delivered numerous gifts from the heart.
A family friend instructed them to take photos of their faces and email them to him. A few weeks later, Mitch received Lego people created to look like each member of the family. When Mitch saw the one that looked like his dad carrying a camera, he nearly screamed with laughter.
"We are so touched by people we don't know reaching out to Mitchell."
"What a sweet gift," said Chris. "We were so touched, especially Mitchell."
Mitchell's elementary school made a video card for him. Teachers, students and faculty at Butterfield Canyon delivered personal messages. Mitchell smiled as he watched the video.
A Facebook follower sent Mitchell socks infused with aloe to warm his cold feet. Many people have sent cards, letters, care packages and are writing him on Facebook. Mitchell has been reading it all.
"We are so touched by people we don't know reaching out to Mitchell," said his mother.
"It's amazing. The love and support touches our hearts," said older brother Ethan.
Mitchell is especially close to his siblings, who have always been there to help him.
"They have been such a blessing in Mitchell's life," said Natalie. "They have given him so much love I think it sustained him through hard times."
Last Thursday, the family postponed an operation to insert a Left Ventricular Assist Device into Mitchell's heart that could prolong his life. The procedure has never been conducted on a child in his condition.
"Even with an LVAD, he faces a very difficult future as his muscles will continue to rapidly waste away," said Chris.
The Jones family knows they face even darker days ahead, but believes the prayers of thousands of people from all over the world will continue to lift their heavy hearts.
"I think the real story is everybody else that has offered so much love," said Chris.