You’d never know it now, but James Franklin Jr. came into this world screaming on March 30, 2000. So much screaming that a mother’s instinct kicked in, even when the doctors and nurses at IU Health Methodist Hospital told her everything was OK with her newborn son.
“I knew something was not right,” Tamieka Franklin said. “He wouldn’t nurse or take a bottle. He was constantly screaming.”
After two days at the hospital, the Franklins were about to take their son home for the first time. The lactation consultant noticed something wrong with James. Very wrong. James had been having seizures, which can be difficult to detect in babies.
“The next thing I knew,” Tamieka said, “they were telling me to call my family because he may not make it through the night.”
Tamieka and her husband, James Franklin Sr., said their goodbyes. But they could hardly believe that they could lose this healthy 8-pound, 5-ounce baby boy. “We were in shock,” Tamieka said. Within a day, James started to stabilize. There were concerns that he might have cerebral palsy or paralysis on one side of his body due to the seizures, but he would live.
Would he ever.
After two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, James came home on April 11, 2000, his parents’ anniversary.
“The doctors said they couldn’t believe it,” Tamieka said. “I’m like, ‘I can.’ He improved every single day.”
James Sr. calls his oldest son a “miracle kid.” He showed signs of weakness on his left side but quickly improved through physical therapy. By the time he started school, James was small but mighty. He was a quiet one, not the screaming baby anymore. But he was fine. A fighter. His dad, a deejay known as “The Legend,” bought James Jr. his own turntables at age 4.
“He was doing great,” James Franklin Sr. said. “A miracle.”
Those scary days right after birth seemed distant in the rearview mirror by the time James entered seventh grade at St. Lawrence Catholic School.
Then came the phone call. James had collapsed on the school playground.
And everything changed again.
* * *
On the night of Jan. 6, James Franklin Sr. had his eyes focused on his son. That’s not unusual. In the three years since James collapsed on the St. Lawrence playground, the Franklins have learned to look for the warning signs of an epileptic seizure.
Cathedral was playing a home game against Northwest that night. James Franklin Jr. is a sophomore, one of the more promising young guards in the city with three games this season of more than 20 points, including a 23-point night in a City tournament semifinal win over Howe.
It was early in the game, on a defensive possession, when Franklin’s left arm started to twitch. His dad noticed right away and made a beeline down the bleachers to the baseline.
“I tried to get to the sideline to get everybody’s attention,” James Jr. said. “My dad caught me before I fell to the ground and got me to the baseline and out of the way.”
The gym went silent as James had a seizure. When it happens – about two or three times a month – his eyes roll back in his head as he shakes and his muscles tighten. It was not a new scene for the Franklin family, but all but one of his teammates had never seen him have a seizure.
“I was playing help defense next to him,” said senior Danny Goggans, a second cousin of Franklin. “He just kind of walked out and I figured he must be having a seizure. It was kind of scary. I looked up in the stands at his dad and he was already on his way. Everybody was really quiet. The whole gym was quiet.”
After the game, a 71-52 Cathedral win, coach Jason Delaney and the staff visited Franklin at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. James had never before suffered a seizure during a practice or game.
“His dad did a great job of educating us with James’ history and how they deal with things,” Delaney said. “It was an enlightening experience because that’s not something you take classes on. It’s not something James talks about. That’s the thing I admire most about him is that he never uses it as a crutch. He understands that’s what he lives with right now, but it’s never ‘Why me?’ He just deals with it.”
But James and his family hope it’s not for much longer.
* * *
January was a rough month. Counting the seizure at the Northwest game, James had eight total. The medicine that was supposed to curb his seizures wasn’t having an impact. On Feb. 6, James was admitted to Riley for more testing.
For five days, he was hooked up to various machines and taken off his medicine. The idea was for James to have multiple seizures so doctors could pinpoint the problem area in the brain.
“That’s why I came here,” James said as he was lying in his hospital bed. “I came here to have a seizure so (the doctors) could find a way to get into the brain.”
James had four seizures during the week, a good result. He’ll have another test at Riley on March 15 and then, hopefully, will undergo resective epilepsy surgery over the summer.
Brain surgery. If that sounds scary, James isn’t flinching.
“God made me this way for a reason,” he said. “I’ll keep going through it until we find something to make it better. I’m used to it. It makes me stronger.”
* * *
There’s no more highly respected player on Cathedral’s team than Franklin, which says a lot for a sophomore. Jack Myers, a senior, said it would be foolish for any of the Irish to complain after seeing what Franklin deals with on a regular basis.
“It would be easy for him to get down with all the things he’s going through,” Myers said. “For him to have to go through that and still have such a great attitude is amazing. There’s nothing more he wants than to just play basketball and be a kid. But even after he’s in the hospital for a week, he’s right back out here at practice two days later.”
James Franklin Sr., who played at Arlington in the early 1990s, said he’s never seen his son scared. He’d take him to outdoor courts around the city to play with and against older guys.
“He’d never back down,” Franklin Sr. said. “He likes to compete and he loves to win. He’s never been somebody to care about his points or stats or whatever.”
Jarron Coleman, a Cathedral junior and cousin of James, said you’d never know Franklin was dealing with any issues. Tamieka believes James might have some insecurities as any 16-year-old might in his situation.
“I know it can be pretty depressing for him,” Tamieka said. “He can’t drive, he can’t swim, he has to leave the door open at night. But we tell him this is the hand he’s been dealt. He is a miracle. When he gets down, we say, ‘Hey, they said you couldn’t do this and now look at you.’”
Franklin carries himself with a quiet confidence. A fire burns within. He already has an offer from IUPUI and interest from a number of other Division I programs. His future is bright. But he does wonder what it would be like to not worry about when his next seizure might be coming.
Brain surgery? Bring it on.
“The people who really know James know that he can get through anything put in front of him,” Goggans said. “Brain surgery is nothing to mess with, but we know he’s got this. He’s going get through it just like he does everything else.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.