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‘Operation End Zone’ teen gets surprise video message from his Michigan football idol

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COOPERSVILLE, Mich. —It started with his love for football and the Michigan Wolverines.

It morphed into 13-year-old BJ Young getting to finally run a touchdown play with his team after spending years on the sidelines because of a debilitating disease. But that wasn't the end of the surprises.

The Coopersville boy has lived his entire life with a condition known as mitochondrial disease, complex 1 and 3. He was never expected to be able to run, much less catch a football in his lifetime. The disease causes fatigue, heart and lung issues, slows his physical and mental growth, and can even lead to heart failure. Mitochondrial disease has a 22 percent survival rate, and there is no cure.

After seeing BJ's story on FOX 17 earlier in October, viewer Stephanie Stanton of Coopersville decided she wanted to do something for him and his family.

"He's just a neat kid and everybody thinks so," she said. "I didn't do it for (the recognition). It's just time somebody gives back."

Stanton, being a Coopersville resident, knew of the Young family and BJ but hadn't ever had an opportunity to really become acquainted with or learn more about mitochondrial disease.

"When I saw the story, I mean, I knew BJ, but I just saw a whole new spin, and I saw it and thought, 'Why not?'" she said.

Stanton reached out to the University of Michigan football program to get some memorabilia sent to BJ, including a commemorative coin and a signed photo of Coach Brady Hoke.

But she didn't want to stop there.

After hearing former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was BJ's hero, Stanton said she made a call to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team Robinson now plays for in the NFL, and she arranged to have him shoot a special message for BJ.

"I just wanted to say 'Congratulations on your first touchdown,' and keep it going man. Just keep the faith, and always work hard," Robinson said in the recorded message. BJ watched, gasping, with a large smile on his face.

"Keep doing what you're doing, and congratulations again," Robinson said as the 10 second message concluded.

Upon learning he could keep the message, BJ said he'd probably replay it "10,000 times."

Amy Young, BJ's mother, stood by, watching as he received the surprise message. She said she's grateful the attention BJ has received and for the additional attention being brought to a disease still unfamiliar to many.

"It totally knocks our socks off," she said. "It's so much fun to watch him and watch him grow. Every leap and bound has been so huge and significant."

The fact (BJ) can even say mitochondrial disease, it's a mouthful. Part of our project in life is to get people to understand this disease so there's help and, hopefully, more research."

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