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April 29, 2003

Because Trent Dilfer is a public figure, the death Sunday of his 5-year-old son Trevin is news.

It’s sad news.

Even those critical of Dilfer the football player surely feel for Dilfer the man and his family. Five-year-olds aren’t supposed to die, they’re supposed to go to kindergarten.

About a month ago, when Trevin Dilfer’s heart illness became public, I contacted the Dilfer family and was politely told the family wishes to be left alone.


Both the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer ran short stories Monday, both with the family’s statement: "We are deeply grateful for the prayers and kindness of so many relatives, friends and strangers over the past five weeks. We will always cherish the heroic efforts of the doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital-Central California and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Trevin was a very brave young boy and we are comforted in knowing that as a child of God, he has returned to his maker. We grieve, but not as those without hope. In this time of sorrow we are thankful for the sensitivity displayed in respecting our privacy."

Dilfer had been through some tough times before but nothing like this. In college, he drank every day until becoming a Christian during his sophomore year.

In Tampa, Fla., he was booed relentlessly by Buccaneers fans and was released by the team in 1999, two years after making the Pro Bowl. In Baltimore, he was dumped by the Ravens just after winning the Super Bowl.

And in Seattle, he ruptured his Achilles tendon after finally winning the starting job with the Seahawks. Each time, his faith — and his football — kept him from crumbling. But this was different. This time, God was asking him to let go of Trevin.In March 2003, the family went to Disneyland. On the second day of the trip, Trevin felt feverish and wasn’t himself. A doctor diagnosed him with asthma and bronchitis.

The day after the family arrived back home, Trevin was listless and couldn’t speak, so Dilfer’s wife took Trevin to the emergency room.

Doctors thought Trevin might have hepatitis and sent him to a nearby children’s hospital. But his heart failed twice during the trip. Doctors sat the Dilfers down and said: “He’s not going to make it, for some reason his heart won’t respond. We’re pumping it manually. We have no idea what’s going on.”

Dilfer fell to his knees and sobbed.

Doctors stabilized Trevin and moved him to the hospital at California’s Stanford University.

By the next day, friends, family and teammates flew in. They were known as Camp Trev, and from the time Trevin arrived, he had as many as 40 visitors a day.

One day, Dilfer put his finger in Trevin’s hand and started talking. A tear slipped out of Trevin’s eye, and he squeezed his dad’s finger. It was the happiest moment of Dilfer’s life.

Doctors told the Dilfers a rare virus had attacked Trevin’s heart and he needed a transplant, so he was placed on the waiting list for a heart. But it was a race against time. Each day brought an increased risk of a bacterial infection. If Trevin developed such an infection, then he’d have to be removed from the waiting list.

The next 25 days were excruciating. Often Dilfer would go to the rooftop garden and pray. Once he went to the chapel and broke down. “God, take my life, just spare my son,” Dilfer pleaded.

Dilfer and his wife attended Easter services April 20, 2003, marking the first time in almost 40 days that they both were away from Trevin. But when they returned, Dilfer knew something was wrong.

The next morning, the Dilfers got the bad news — Trevin most likely had a systemic infection.

All this time, they had trusted that the Lord would save Trevin. But that night, Dilfer had a revelation — God would save Trevin by taking him home.

Six days later, the couple prayed and decided to take Trevin off life support. They were told the machine could only keep him alive two more weeks and he’d be in pain. Doctors and pastors assured them it was the loving and merciful thing to do.

Three days later, April 30, the Dilfers held a Celebration of Trevin’s Life at Peoples Church in Fresno, Calif.

Dilfer didn’t intend to speak, but he felt moved to do so. He picked up Trevin’s blue blanket, the one he had in the hospital. Then he looked up at the huge picture of Trevin on the projection screen, cried and said, “He was my best friend.”

The Dilfers set up TD4HIM, a foundation to raise money for youth sports programs, church ministries and other things they knew Trevin loved. They kept Trevin’s bedroom intact to keep him with them in spirit. They surrounded themselves with family and friends and sought counseling. Still the grief was suffocating.

When it came time for Seahawks camp the summer of 2003, Dilfer somehow made it to camp. It was a tough season.

The next season, 2004, Dilfer started two games as a relief quarterback and Seattle won them both. He realized that more than ever he needed to be on the field. But he knew he’d have to leave the Seahawks to be a starter again.

Dilfer was ready for a new challenge, another step in the healing process. What’s more, his family was emotionally up for such a big move. He asked the Seahawks to trade him and soon received a call from Browns General Manager Phil Savage. Dilfer called it a miracle.

He was back in the game as a starter, and now Sundays are more special than ever. They’re a chance to show off for Trevin, his best friend and No. 1 fan. (RNS)