Pay It Forward: Ranse Jones Stroke Awareness Fund

Pay It Forward: Ranse Jones Stroke Awareness Fund

By Matthew N. Skoufalos

About how many people — athletes, musicians, artists, craftsmen, chefs — has it been said that they died doing what they loved?

And even if they were able to choose the hour and circumstances of their departure, how many of them might have traded it all for just a little more time with their loved ones?

For the friends and family of the late Ranse Jones, a 34-year-old Flagler County, Fla. firefighter-EMT, 20-year pro volleyball player, and pillar of his South Florida community, those questions must still linger, even four years after his death.

But in testament to Jones’ legacy, those left behind in the wake of his passing are unwilling to let their friend — and his memory — go quietly.

In May 2010, Jones suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in the middle of a Panama City Beach beach volleyball tournament qualifier. Everyone was stunned. Jones had led an active life, was physically healthy, athletic, and strong. He showed no signs of illness. Although he was sped to the hospital, the young man succumbed to the after-effects of his injuries six months later.

Just prior to his passing, Jones received word that his friends in the beach volleyball community had raised about $30,000 to cover the cost of his treatment through a charity tournament. The success of that outreach inspired them to hold another, equally successful tournament the following year, which raised money for children in distress.

But by 2012, Jones’ friends were interested in finding a different way of continuing his legacy; one more closely connected to the condition that claimed his life. They approached staff at Broward Health in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., inquiring whether there were any stroke funds to which they could donate the proceeds of the next tournament. Media Relations Manager Lyn Clark’s answer was, “Let’s make one.”

With that, the Ranse Jones Stroke Awareness Fund was conceived. The money is used for public and professional stroke education, said Broward Health spokesperson Victoria Israels. With some of it, the health system established a Florida Stroke Symposium that draws physicians from all over the country to its facility. The Ranse Resource Room on the Broward North stroke floor brims with literature on the warning signs and symptoms of stroke, and the hospital is consistently looking for ways to expand the reach of its operations.

“When families [of stroke patients] come in, they can see and find ways of explaining what’s happened to their family members,” Israels said. “We’re finding ways to raise awareness in our own community and around the country for Ranse and other families going through the things that they’ve been through.”

Now in its third year, the Ranse Volleyball Classic has raised between $40,000 and $50,000 since that initial conversation with Jones’s friends and family. The hospital is hoping to raise another $30,000 to add to that total this year in the two-day tournament, which draws professional volleyball players, non-professionals, and well-wishers to its Fort Lauderdale headquarters. More than 90 volunteers from the hospital support the efforts of the weekend by selling raffle tickets for gift baskets, performing blood pressure checks, and generally raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of stroke, Israels said.

“We have a huge support system in place,” she said.

The day, Israels said, can get emotional at times. Jones is survived by a wife as well as his mother and father, who attend every tournament. In addition to the love from the volleyball community, members of the local community also show up in droves, Israels said — a testament to the lasting impact of Jones’s life.

“They play for him; they talk about him,” she said. “Ranse’s legacy has truly lived on in this tournament and in these players’ hearts.” The most touching moments can be “seeing [how] his mom, [Sherry Marthinuss, is] really proud of her son, and seeing that he’s really making a difference even though he’s not here.”

“I love seeing Sherry during the tournament,” Israels said. “You can tell she doesn’t know whether to smile or cry. Most of all she’s really proud of her son, leaving a huge legacy and he’s not even here.”

Israels said that Marthinuss recollected that “every time she would call [Jones], he was at a tournament,” and he is remembered by his friends as someone who “didn’t need stuff.” He was known as a man more interested in making memories and playing volleyball; known for his love of his dog and his community impact — which many didn’t realize was as great as it was until he was gone.

“We as a hospital didn’t know him, but we feel like we did,” Israels said. “He had a charismatic personality, and you can tell from everyone that you talk to about him.”

Tragically, the loss of such a vibrant figure is what also makes Jones an ideal candidate for stroke awareness, she said.

“We talk about stroke, and [Jones] was a 34-year-old active person,” Israels said. “He ate well and he was a firefighter. This can happen to anybody. Stroke is something that’s been happening for a really long time. There needs to be a movement to raise awareness and research.”

“Stroke has been around for a really long time,” she said. “I know we’re getting farther into the medical intervention[s]. We’re getting the information out to the community and saying, ‘Know where your comprehensive stroke center is.’ ”