Brandon Mebane, a 33-year-old defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Chargers, is mourning the death of his seven-week-old daughter, Makenna.
Makenna died on January 3 at a NICU in Omaha, Nebraska, according to multiple outlets.
Mebane had missed four games throughout November and December to be with his wife and two children when Makenna was born with a rare chromosome disorder. The condition, Trisomy 13, causes intellectual disabilities and physical abnormalities such as heart defects and poorly developed eyes, the National Institutes of Health reports, and most infants with the disease live only a few days or weeks after birth.
“T13 is when you’re dealing with a heart condition and the baby doesn’t have a valve to her heart,” Mebane told Chargers.com.
“[There are] not a whole lot of surgeons in the United States to do surgery on babies, so we had to go to a specialist,” he continued. “There are only like four doctors in the U.S. that do this [certain procedure]. One of the doctors is in Omaha, so we had to go out there.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Makenna developed an infection in her stomach two weeks after she was born, and had to undergo an operation in the middle of December to remove the infected tissue in her intestines. Unfortunately, her condition worsened soon after the surgery.
“She just kept bleeding from her stomach, and when they tried to feed her, it wasn’t good for her liver,” Mebane told the outlet. “She wasn’t doing much better, and they had to make a decision.”
Throughout the ordeal, Mebane rejoined the team during their last two regular season games and helped them complete their push to the playoffs.
“I think the main thing for me is just playing for my family… playing for her [my wife] and my kids and my family has been a motivation,” Mebane posted on Twitter in November, shortly after Makenna was born. “A boost to help me just go [out and just play.]”
A month later, Mebane told Chargers reporters that the experience had brought him closer to his faith.
“[This is] something that made me more aware of talking to God more, praying way more, [and] praying not just at night with my kids, but before we drop them off at school,” he told Chargers.com. “Hopefully this’ll [raise] awareness.”
When contacted by PEOPLE, the Chargers provided a tweet which expressed their heartbreak for Mebane, who has been with the team since 2016.
“Words are hard to come by with the passing of Brandon Mebane’s infant daughter, Makenna. We are heartbroken,” the team wrote. “Please join us in keeping Brandon, and his family, in your thoughts and prayers.”
The Chargers are currently set to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, to decide who will move on to the AFC Championship, then to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
Mebane said he plans to play with the team once again when they meet the Pats in Foxborough — and he’ll be keeping his daughter close to his heart when he’s on the field.
“You know, it’s been a tough year, period, but she would want me to be here doing my job,” Mebane told the Times. “No matter where I am, I still think about her. I’m just happy I’m still able to play this game.”