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Minium: ODU Basketball Team Adds a New Member: 10-year-old Va. Beach resident Brandon Nowlan


By Harry Minium

When you're ten years old, 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.

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

But that's not the life 10-year-old 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. And he can't go out and play like most kids.

He 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.

Nowlan is a shy, fifth grader at Providence Elementary School in Virginia Beach who often can't play with his friends.

"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 Wednesday afternoon, 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 reached out to Amy Lynch, an academic advisor who works with the ODU basketball team, and "Miss Amy," as basketball players call her, proposed that the Monarchs adopt Brandon.

Coach Jeff Jones readily agreed – "it was a no-brainer," he said.

Late Wednesday afternoon there was a "signing" ceremony at the Mitchum Basketball Performance Center.

Brandon shot around with the team for about 20 minutes before the ceremony, and while doing so, the players protected him in a fatherly way from ricocheting rebounds.

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

"By signing this letter of intent," Jones said, reading 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."

He 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 athletic teams.

Lynch said being accepted into the program means Brandon will be a part of ODU's team for two years. He will come to practice when he can and go to every game that he can. He's never played basketball and doesn't know the rules well but is picking up on things quickly.

The idea is to create a bond between players and Brandon that will let him know he's not alone, and that an entire college basketball team cares about him.

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

"He's has forged a friendship with them A.J. and Jaylin," Jones said. "And that friendship is going to grow and get closer."

He didn't say much in the interview but when he did, it was meaningful: "This means a lot to me," he said.

It also means a lot to Eileen and 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," said Eileen, who's learned a thing or two about nursing herself.

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.

So, 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, although, fortunately, 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 and does them herself.

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

I remember what it was like to get shots when I was a kid, and it was miserable. Imagine having to get an infusion every week from almost the time you were born?

"No, it's no fun for him, but he just sits there and lets me do it," Eileen said. "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.

"He's such a trooper.

"What he's gone through makes you grow up quicker and mature quicker."

Quinn goes to work every day as an Information Technology Specialist. Eileen works from home, in part to take care of Brandon. She sells tumblers, koozies, vinyl stickers and other fare online at

Eileen said she got emotional when he signed the letter of intent. It hit her at that moment that for two years, her son will be loved and cared for by a group of college athletes.

"I was joyful," she said. "Brandon looked so happy."

As I watched the players, you could tell they weren't just there because they had to be. They know about Brandon's condition. They feel for him and want to help him.

There was genuine joy in their face. As is typical of a Jones-coached team, these guys have a ton of character.

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

Asked what she hopes others learn from what Brandon is doing, Eileen said "that 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. We'll get a chance to see him grow and get more and more comfortable with all of our players."

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

"There's nothing better than seeing a child smile," he said, adding: "especially somebody who has had the kinds of bumps in the road he's had to endure."
Minium was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in his 39 years at The Virginian-Pilot and won 27 state and national writing awards. He covers ODU athletics for Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @hbminium1 or email