COSTA MESA, Calif. — Brandon Mebane sat in front of his locker at the Los Angeles Chargers’ training facility. Well, it sure looked like Mebane, the Chargers nose tackle and one of the team’s captains.
“I’m not Brandon,’’ the giant man said Wednesday. “Do you want me to go get him?’’
The man took a half-dozen steps, then turned around.
“Just kidding,’’ he said, and the 6-foot-1, 311-pound Mebane broke into a big smile that might have struck many people familiar with his situation as surprising.
Mebane’s infant daughter, Makenna, faces life-threatening health complications stemming from a heart condition and remains hospitalized more than five weeks after her premature birth. She is expected to undergo heart surgery this spring.
Mebane missed the Chargers’ past four games while spending time with his wife, Amena, and their two other children — 4-year-old daughter Mahailey and 2-year-old son Makai — in Omaha, Neb., where Makenna was born last month about four weeks ahead of her due date.
On Wednesday, Mebane, 33 and in his 12th NFL season, reiterated that plans to play against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday and he was in good enough spirits to pull a prank on a reporter, too.
“Yeah, everything good, man,’’ he told USA TODAY Sports through sniffles. “Just happy to be back and happy that my daughter’s doing better.’’
During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Mebane took out his phone, opened an app for Bible scripture and scrolled down until he found what he was looking for — 2 Corinthians 5:7.
“For we live by faith, not by sight.”
Said Mebane: “That’s my all-time favorite.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Mebane said, he attended a Christian megachurch, and he indicated Makenna’s ordeal has both tested and strengthened his faith.
“At this point, man, when you talk to God and pray, you can’t worry about the things that’s happening,’’ he said. “You got to have faith.’’
In July, Mebane said, his wife had a blood test that indicated their baby might have Trisomy 13 Syndrome. Only five percent to 10 percent of children with the rare chromosomal condition live past their first year, and many die within their first days or weeks of life, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Subsequent medical tests confirmed that then-unborn Makenna had the condition, according to Mebane. He and his wife went to Omaha after her research on Trisomy 13 led her to a hospital there that offered some of the top specialists.
Makenna was born Nov. 12 without complications, Mebane said.
“She was doing fine right when she came out,’’ Mebane said, but added that that Makenna later spit up her mother’s breast milk.
Soon after, Mebane said, the doctors discovered Makenna had Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that affects the intestine of premature infants, according to NIH. They removed part of her intestine, according to Mebane, who said Chargers owner Dean Spanos let him use a private plan so he could get to Omaha in time for the surgery.
“Every time I see (Spanos) I tell him thanks,’’ Mebane said. “That was special, man.’’
Turning subdued, Mebane said Makenna also has suffered a heart attack and that he watched as doctors worked to revive her.
“I started crying and I hadn’t cried in a long time,’’ he said. “I couldn’t even remember the last time I cried.’’
For weeks, he flew to Omaha on Sundays after playing in the Chargers’ games and rejoined his teammates on Tuesdays. Before one trip to Omaha, Mebane stopped at the home of George Gregory, the Chargers’ team chaplain, and spoke to his wife on speakerphone.
“It was a very tough time for both of them because Brandon wasn’t there, the baby was going through surgery and it’s a lot of unknowns,’’ Gregory said. “They were talking and I would just kind of interject and say, ‘Hey, let’s pray.’ ”
After Week 11 of the season, Mebane decided he needed to be in Omaha more than he needed to be in Southern California. Or as Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn told reporters, “his leadership is needed with his family right now.’’
A third-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2007, Mebane earned a starting job as a rookie and won a Super Bowl ring in 2014 before signing with the Chargers in 2016.
Without Mebane, the Chargers still managed to win four games in a row, improve to 11-3 and clinch the team’s first postseason berth since 2013. In Omaha, Mebane said, Makenna’s condition stabilized.
She will be two days shy of 6 weeks old when the Chargers play the Ravens at the StubHub Center in Carson on Saturday.
“It’s harder than anything I’d ever dealt with in my life,’’ he said. “It’s been a journey to where I find myself praying three, four times a day.
“You got to believe. You got to have faith that what you pray for is going to happen.’’