While University of Miami starting safety Deon Bush lay at his Miami home in June recovering from outpatient hernia surgery, his dad, Gary Bush Sr., lay in another room dealing with liver cancer.
“I was Nurse Bush at the time,” said Michele Bush, a former UM and North Carolina Central basketball player who is the assistant principal at Coconut Palms K-8 Academy in Homestead. “We’ve struggled, but God always makes a way for us.”
The Bushes, who met when she was a sophomore at UM in 1986 and he was a graduate of Mississippi Valley State (he played wide receiver with this weekend’s Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Rice), have raised two star football players and an accomplished basketball player. But right now they’re just three devoted children trying to stay positive for their ailing father, a 51-year-old Miami Southridge High science teacher known throughout Miami-Dade for his generosity in helping young athletes in need.
Eldest son GJ (short for Gary Junior) will soon begin his redshirt senior season as a starting receiver at Purdue; Deon started six of his 10 games as a freshman last season and was named by Miami coaches as Newcomer of the Year; and daughter Nya, 13, is a middle-school hoops standout.
They used to struggle to keep up with their ultra-fit dad. Now they’re cheering every step toward what they hope will be his full recovery. The journey continues with expected surgery next week to hopefully remove part of the cancerous liver and his damaged gallbladder.
“I want people to be aware you can be a healthy, strong person and still have things going on in your body that you don’t realize until you get a checkup,” said Gary Bush, now on leave from Southridge. “Cancer is the last thing I ever imagined. I was getting up at 4:30 a.m. and doing five miles at the gym, lifting weights. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, and all of a sudden it happened to me.
“My health wasn’t the first thing on my mind – kids, school, work. I was always running, running, running. A year ago I couldn’t even tell you where the liver was located.”
With the help of friends, Gary Bush and his family have created a website to inform others of his situation, make them aware of the importance of checkups and share his strong faith. Bush, an avid churchgoer and follower of pastor Alphonso Jackson at the Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights, takes joy in online messages of hope from outsiders. And as much as it pains them to admit it, the family is struggling financially with exorbitant medical bills.
“He’s a very down-to-earth, great person, and I’m a changed young man because of my father,’’ said GJ, who played football, basketball and ran track at Columbus High. “I get up every day and push myself like it’s my last day. I don’t take anything for granted. I appreciate things more.”
Deon, who came to UM as a four-star recruit and has been urging Twitter followers to go to his dad’s website, turns 20 on Aug. 14. He played football, ran track and played one year of basketball at Columbus. He finished his first college season with 34 tackles, three pass breakups and tied for second in the ACC with three forced fumbles.
UM begins training camp Saturday, and players aren’t available for interviews until then. A person close with the program revealed that Deon had the offseason surgery to repair a slight tear in his groin, and sports hernia repairs also were made. He has been rehabbing and is expected to make a full recovery, though a time frame has not been revealed.