Photo by Derrick Mahone
Forest Park quarterback Irvin Balfour lost his mother, Deidra, to breast cancer last year and his younger brother DeAndre suffers from a rare heart condition.
FOREST PARK — It was a surreal moment for the Balfour family. One that seemed to tease their faith, if not shake it.
Fourteen year old DeAndre Balfour — not expected to live past age one — had just received a successful heart transplant.
It was a procedure to help combat his Tricuspid Atresia — a condition he was born with that gave him just one working heart valve.
A condition that should have taken his life before his second birthday.
The December 14, 2010, operation was successful. The in-hospital recovery went well, and DeAndre was able to finally come home with a new heart and a fresh start at life.
That was January 5, 2011.
The celebration was put on pause three days later when DeAndre’s mother, Deidra, found a lump in her breast. She went to her doctor for a checkup.
Breast cancer. That was January 8 of that year. Three days after celebrating her son’s recovery, she was dealt the news that her own life now was in danger.
To Forest Park senior quarterback Irvin Balfour, Jr., it didn’t seem fair. And for a moment he was tempted to brood in the unfairness — just for a moment.
“I was mad,” he said. “But I wasn’t so much mad at Him.”
The ‘him’ Irvin Balfour was referring to is God. Then on July 15, 2011 — almost six months to the day of receiving the initial news, Irvin had another reason to be mad at “Him.” This was the day that his mother succumbed to breast cancer.
But once again, he refused to fall to that temptation God had already shown him so many reasons to still have faith.
“The day she passed away, she lived long enough for us to see her alive one more time,” he said. “I could be mad, but I’m happy. I’m happy she lived her life. I’m happy we don’t have to see her suffer anymore.”
For the Balfours, the reality of breast cancer invading their household was tough enough. But actually watching Deidra’s life grow shorter by the disease was another story.
“You read about it happening to everyone else, but you don’t think it will happen to you,” said Deidra’s husband Irvin Balfour, Sr. “To watch my wife, for them to watch their mother deteriorate, it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
For Irvin Balfour, Jr., talking about the worst actually jogged his memory about one of the best moments he’d had with his mother.
It happened when he was a student at Jordan Middle School in San Antonio — where the family lived before moving to the Atlanta area for DeAndre’s heart surgery.
Irvin Jr. scored his first touchdown in middle school, and amid all the cheers was a familiar loud voice.
“My mom yelled out, ‘That’s my baby!’ when I scored,” he said with a laugh. “It wasn’t embarrassing to me. It made me feel good.”
Fast forward to his first football game last year with the Forest Park football team — a scrimmage against Monroe Area. It would be his first game without the physical presence of his mother.
“I prayed and told her that I’d make a touchdown for her,” he said. “And I did. I just broke down crying. I knew she was watch me and she was with me.”
Football has been a support system for the Balfours. On the day of Deidra’s funeral, the entire team was there. When Irvin Jr. got his birthday money on September 27, he rushed out to buy pink socks for everyone to wear during Breast Cancer Awareness month.
He said after high school he wants to get into medical school. He’s currently working on becoming a certified nursing assistant.
It’s all because of what his mother’s death — but moreover her life — taught him.
“I want to be able to take care of people, ” he said. “I never want to be in a position where I can’t do anything. I want to change people’s lives for the better. That’s what she did for us.”