Jayhawk Insider: Ruler of Hope

The second that Landrey Eargle enters a room there is a newfound, joyful glow that was not there mere moments ago. She is the second of three children for Kansas football’s senior analyst for the offense Joshua Eargle and is the one that has changed the lives of the Eargles and countless others around the country.

“Our journey with Landrey has been one of great high highs and very low lows,” Joshua said.

Born six weeks premature, Landrey was diagnosed with what was later found to be a mutation of the CSNK2B gene. The CSNK2B gene is one that helps to regulate metabolic pathways, signal transduction, transcription, translation and replication within humans. However, this particular mutation for Landrey is very rare. She’s one of only four cases in the entire world and is the only documented case in the United States.

“Every parent believes that they have a one of a kind child, we just got it documented through her DNA and her gene sequence,” Joshua said.

The effects of Landrey’s condition became apparent early on. At just seven weeks old Landrey had to have open heart surgery to deal with her congenital heart defect and was forced to stay in the hospital for the first 73 days of her life. Following her surgery, she coded four times in nine days.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that we thought we were going to lose her, but she’s still here and we cherish every day with her,” Kristen Eargle, Joshua’s wife, and Landrey’s mother, said in an interview with ESPN. “She’s a miracle, our miracle, and has brought more depth to our lives.”

Along with her heart defect, Landrey deals with myoclonic epilepsy, intellectual disability and immunodeficiency on a daily basis. At just six years old she has been hospitalized 15 times and requires 24-hour care. However, despite all of this, there is always a smile on the little girl’s face.

“Landrey just takes adversity on head-first,” Joshua said. “She has no idea what she is dealing with and doctors will tell us that she is in pain every day. But the little girl just wakes up and is fired up about life.”

That fired up about life emotion that Landrey lives with really connected her with a lot of Joshua’s former coaching staff and players. While coaching for Austin Peay, the Eargles would have players come over for dinner and they would immediately gravitate towards Landrey.

“It is amazing to see big, tough, strong men just kind of melt into a little, non-verbal six-year old’s arms,” Joshua said. “She has an interesting way of hugging. Landrey walks up to you backwards and kind of leans up against you. And it is kind of funny to see all the guys react and how it puts a smile on their face. So many guys from 18 to 20-year olds get a bad rep of being selfish individuals, but Landrey brings out all of the goodness in a lot of young men that she has been around.”

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Due to the team’s love of Landrey and the Eargles, her story began to get recognition around the country prior to the Governors’ first game of the 2018 regular season against Georgia. The Eargles were just beginning to open up more about Landrey and their struggles when Austin Peay kicker Cole Phillips began communicating with an old high school teammate of his that played baseball for the Bulldogs.

Word spread immediately of Landrey’s story from the Georgia baseball team and made its way to their football team prior to the season opener. And the fans at that stadium were made aware of the Eargle situation. What Landrey and her family walked out to inside Sanford Stadium was a moment of pure support and joy.

“When we walked into that game the first year, the crowd was ready to receive Landrey and they honored Landrey,” Joshua said. “Kirby Smart and his family were kind enough to make a donation to Landrey from his foundation and recognize her and let her story continue to grow.”

Following that game, the GoFundMe page Kristen’s parents had created grew to more than $115,000 thanks to donations from fans and coaches from teams across the country. The support that they received from the football community is what Joshua points to when explaining why college football is the top sport out there.

“Football is so unified and is the greatest sport out there. Normally you walk into a stadium and you see two teams on two sides with the stadium split into two different colors. But when Landrey walks into that stadium and college football wants to wrap its arms around you, there is nothing better,” Joshua said.

Thanks to the national attention Landrey and her story were garnering, the Eargles were chosen as the recipients for the 2019 Rare Disease Champion award. They were presented this by the Uplifting Athletes organization at the Maxwell Football Awards Gala. The award is given to a leader in the college football community who has shown to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.

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While receiving this honor, Joshua was also selected as the keynote speaker for the event that gives grants to research physicians who are currently working towards creating cures for rare diseases. During his speech, he talked about Landrey’s condition and the hardships that she has to go through while they search for a cure as well as bringing awareness to the rare disease community. But he also talked about how this little girl has brought so much happiness into this world and how that has impacted him and his family.

“She has got such great joy about her that it has really changed our family from looking at ourselves to looking at others,” Joshua said. “Landrey is one of those that kind of preaches to you and she sets an example for you. No matter what the little girl is going through she is happy to see you and lights up whenever you walk into a room. She is choosing joy in the midst of great adversity and that has kind of become a mantra for our family is to find a way, no matter what you are going through, to choose joy today.”

It was that mantra and change of mindset that helped lead Joshua and Kristen to come up with the idea to start a non-profit organization to help bring more awareness and support to the rare disease community. With over 30 million people in the United States having some form of the rare disease, they thought this would be a good way to help fundraise and provide financial support to those families with critically or chronically ill children while also being able to help raise money to fund research as they look for cures.

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“We are passionate about spreading hope to children who are battling critical or chronic illnesses. We know first-hand the heaviness and the hardship that a medical diagnosis and medical expenses can bring to them and their families. We want to provide a message of joy during those battles,” Kristen said in the press release announcing the launching of their corporation.

To provide that message of joy, they decided to name the organization after their own little ball of joy and happiness.

“Our little girl’s name is Landrey Hope Eargle, and the name Landrey and then her second name Hope they all come together to mean Ruler of Hope,” Joshua said.

So, while this journey has been one filled with ups and downs for Joshua and his family, they would not consider having it any other way.

“If six years ago you would’ve asked us if we could handle this little girl with all these issues, we would’ve been freaked out,” Joshua said. “But when you look back six years ago, it was such a life changing event that I wouldn’t trade any of it anything. I wouldn’t trade my little girl for anything.”

Donations to Ruler of Hope can be accepted online through their website at www.rulerofhope.org.