Photo of Mr. IckeyBy P.K. Daniel 

It was a hot and humid summer day in Sharonville, Ohio. The air quality was in the unhealthy range, particularly dangerous for those with asthma.

Elbert Jovante Woods was an up-and-coming football player for Princeton High School, 16 miles north of Cincinnati. The 16-year-old junior was expected to start at cornerback that fall; he also ran track and played basketball. Those in the know said Jovante had the potential to be a Division I football prospect.

He had the pedigree, too. His father, Ickey Woods, was an All-Pro running back for the Cincinnati Bengals who in the late 1980s made famous a touchdown dance called the “Ickey Shuffle.”

Jovante practiced with his varsity teammates on the morning of Aug. 14, 2010. Later, at home, he complained of tightness in his chest before collapsing to the ground. Aubry, the youngest of the six Woods children, immediately called his father, who was a few minutes away.

Jovante was diagnosed with asthma at age 2. He carried a quick-relief inhaler and he took preventive medication. He had a nebulizer at home for breathing treatments. He had periodic stays at the hospital, including four days when he was 13 years old. But Woods said his son had experienced fewer asthma flares in recent years.

And when Jovante suffered this last asthma flare, his father still believed he would just go to the hospital, his asthma would improve with treatment, and he would be okay.

“It didn’t happen,” Ickey Woods says. “He never came home. Never in my wildest dreams did I think asthma would take him from us. It was heart-wrenching. It hurt me to the core, because he was not only my son but also my friend. We hung out all the time. To lose him was like losing a part of me.”

Before Jovante’s passing, Woods was unaware of the potential deadly consequences of asthma. “I didn’t know asthma could kill before it took my baby from me,” he says. “We thought we had it under control.”

Woods’ family was not unfamiliar with the disease, though. Both Ickey and his wife Chandra have asthma and their now-grown daughter Allegra also has it.

A month after Jovante’s passing, the Woods family decided to establish the Jovante Woods Foundation to raise funds and awareness about the disease.

With one in six children in Ohio diagnosed with asthma, one of the foundation’s goals is to raise money to further asthma research. The foundation donated $100,000 to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Asthma Center – the gift was delivered on Jan. 11, 2016, the day Jovante would have turned 22.

“One of the main reasons we started the foundation is to educate people on how serious and severe asthma is,” Woods says. “We don’t want to lose any more lives to asthma. Fighting this deadly disease is what I do full-time.”

Another goal is to award scholarships to student-athletes like Jovante. He missed his share of school due to asthma, according to his father, but still managed to carry a 3.8 grade-point average entering his junior year. Through its “3.8 To Be Great” program, the foundation has awarded $30,000+ in scholarships to student-athletes who earned a 3.8 GPA or higher.

“We’re going to fight until we find a cure or a better way to treat asthma,” Woods says. “It’s near and dear to my heart. It’s why I wake up in the morning. We can’t keep losing people to asthma. I want to help people not go through the pain we went through.”

Reviewed by Andrea Jensen, CHES