One of the many sentiments Carver Vocational-Technical High School coach Trevor Walker regularly relays to his players is that their time together is about much more than football.
The past few weeks have been a testament to his words.
A healthy, 31-year-old former Towson University football player, Walker was his typical energetic self when he was coaching the Bears during an afternoon game Sept. 17.
But that night, he became violently sick and disoriented, and ended up in a hospital bed at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.
“When he came in, he was very sick, his blood work looked really bad,” said Dr. Kevin Chen, a blood specialist at Franklin Square who is treating Walker. “He was very anemic, his red cells were very low and his platelets were very low. They were critically low, very low levels, dangerously low. He also had some neurologic systems — slurring his speech — so all of those things triggered us to think that he may have a serious blood disorder called TTP.”
TTP, or thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, is a rare disorder that causes clots to form in small blood vessels, which leads to a low platelet count. The clots can restrict blood flow to critical organs such as the brain, kidneys and heart, which can prove fatal if not treated promptly.
The following day, Walker started a treatment called plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, a process in which his bad blood plasma is replaced with good blood plasma. The plasma exchange dramatically reduces the risk of death from the disorder.
After some early ups and downs, Walker’s platelet count is steadily increasing to a normal level. He is expected to be released from the hospital soon.
Grateful for the care provided by the Franklin Square team, Walker said he has stayed his typical strong and positive self thanks to his faith in God and the overwhelming support he received from his friends and family, including his wife, Katie. His family set up a GoFundMe page online to raise money for his recovery. As of Wednesday evening, it had received more than $10,600, with more than 100 donors contributing as much as $500.
“Honestly, I am blessed. I have a beautiful wife and daughter, a great family on both of our sides, great friends and co-workers,” Walker said. “The amount of love that I have received during this hard time is humbling. I always tell my players, ‘People will forget your name, they forget how you look, but they never forget how you make them feel.’ I live my life by that saying, and God has placed his hand on this situation and I know he is going to bless everyone that has been a blessing to me.”
Walker, an Essex resident and native of Trenton, New Jersey, who also teaches and coaches track at Carver Vo-Tech, has made immediate and lasting impressions since arriving at the West Baltimore high school school in 2019.
The school’s assistant principal, Bernard Dezurn, was the first to be impressed when he interviewed Walker for the football coaching job.
“We had a few other candidates, but when Trevor walked in the room, for some reason, I knew he was the guy for Carver,” he said. “And then after the interview, I was even more confident that he was the guy because of his love for not only the sport and the program, but for the young men and the things that he expressed he wanted to do for them.
“He wanted to make sure they had an avenue where they could be involved in a sport, but also a place where they would be protected and they would be able to speak freely and be able to enjoy themselves and grow as young men. He has gone way above and beyond.”
Carver senior Tyzhan Curtis, an offensive tackle and nose guard, met Walker in the gym during his sophomore year. Curtis played football before but didn’t enjoy the experience, and had no plans of returning until a conversation with the new coach quickly changed his mind. It also changed his life.
“I don’t know where to start, because Coach Walker is like a father to me. He’s been there a lot for me, during all my ups and downs,” said Curtis, who said he’s reached out to his coach every day since he was hospitalized. “I really don’t know how to put it, but his presence is amazing. He’s a really good person to be around, always has good energy and he’s always trying to find ways to make everybody a better person. The last person he thinks about is himself.”
Walker’s wife, Katie, a kindergarten teacher, has her own fun way of looking at her husband’s special qualities.
“I often joke that I have to share my husband with a lot of people because as special as he is to me and our daughter, he is just as special to so many other people,” she said. “It’s like one person says Trevor is his closest person and then someone else is like, ‘But he’s mine, too.’ So he’s very well loved by many and it’s an honor and joy to be his wife.”
During Walker’s hospitalization, his assistant coach and younger brother, Jawan, has been in charge of the football team, which enters Friday’s game at Edmondson with a 1-3 record. As well as he knows his older brother, Jawan has learned even more about him during this medical scare.
“Speaking on how strong he is, that’s like a minor word to describe him with all the things he’s done in the building,” he said. “You hear it from the kids, they really love him and he really loves them, and you see it. If you got a chance to see it, it wouldn’t be just a sight, but something you felt.”
In his hospital bed, many of Walker’s thoughts have been with his team. He has had FaceTime chats with his players to keep apprised of their progress. Once he’s discharged, he’ll have to stay on top of follow-up appointments and watch for signs of relapse, which can occur in up to 60% of patients with TPP, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. But he’s mostly looking forward to his return to the field.
Dezurn said it will happen in due time.
“Do I miss him? Yes. But what’s important to me is he gets better,” the assistant principal said.
“I know he’s worried about the young men and program. But I said to him ‘You know what, you’re going to learn something from what you’re going through that you’re going to be able to share with these young men and that’s going to make them even better.’ So we need you to focus on getting better because I’m sure the day he gets out of the hospital his first thought is going to be ‘I got to get to the school, to my young men.’
“Follow the plan, do what the doctor is saying and, at the right time, you’ll come back and you’ll come back stronger.”