APRIL 30 2017 - 8:00PM
‘She wasn’t breathing properly, I was thinking the worst’: Wests Tigers’ Elijah Taylor’s horrifying ordeal
Sacked coaches. Player defections. Heavy losses. All that pales into insignificance when compared to the private ordeal Elijah Taylor and his family went through as the turmoil at the Wests Tigers took centre stage last month.
It was after round two. The Tigers had just been thumped by Taylor’s former club, Penrith, on a Sunday afternoon in Campbelltown, when his 11-month-old daughter took a turn for the worse.
“We were driving home after the loss and our baby started having seizures,” Taylor said. “When we went to the hospital the doctors were freaking out straight away. They chucked her into the intensive care unit. She wasn’t breathing properly. Man, I was scared. I was thinking the worst.”
It was the start of a gut-wrenching two-week period that tested the strength of the Taylor family. All they could do was wait in hope as they watched their daughter battle the life-threatening condition.
She had been diagnosed with encephalitis – the sudden onset of inflammation of the brain that threatened to cause irreparable damage to his second child.
“It was scary because we knew there could be brain damage,” Taylor said. “We were told there was a chance she wouldn’t recover properly. We knew she could be slow or could be epileptic or could be unable to function. We didn’t know how bad it could be. It was an infection in her ear and it was putting pressure on her brain and that’s why she was having the seizures. It was a really scary time.”
The hospital provided Taylor with a room, where he would spend the next two weeks juggling his rugby league commitments and looking after his family.
But the very toughness that has earned Taylor so much admiration from Tigers faithful was shown by his daughter to fight her way through the infection.
“I thank God for everything that has happened,” he said. "We have to monitor her motor skills, monitor the way she is developing and what she needs to work on. But, mate, praise God she’s coming through fine. She’s had no episodes, she’s strong and nearly walking around.
“She had a CT scan, an MRI scan and they came back through fine. She’s recovering now and getting better. They are still worried about the seizures because they might come back. We have to take her in every month for a check-up to see how her brain is working and developing because there could be some long-term effects.”
It was a difficult time for Taylor, made worse by the news of his coach’s sacking, especially because of the strong relationship the pair forged since Jason Taylor had resurrected his career at the end of last season.
On the eve of Jason Taylor’s demise, the former Tigers coach made his way to Westmead Children’s Hospital.
“He didn’t text me that he was coming, he just showed up because he cared,” Taylor said. “It speaks a lot about the man. It was before the game – that’s what hurts the most about the whole scenario. JT came in and saw the baby on the Friday. He had lunch with me and my wife and my baby talking about, ‘How you going and how you dealing with it?’ I was really rattled, man. I told him, ‘Mate, I don’t think I’ll be able to play against Canberra’. He told me, ‘Stay with your family. Family comes first’.”
That was the last time the pair saw each other.
Elijah didn’t make his way down to the nation’s capital for what would end up being Jason Taylor’s final hours in charge of the joint venture.
So the news of his coach’s sacking the following day rocked the Kiwi, who couldn’t understand why the man who handed him a career lifeline was suddenly out the exit door after just two losses.
“The most shit thing about JT getting fired was when they went to Canberra and lost, I got back Monday morning and JT is gone,” Elijah said.
"That hurt. That really hurt. I sent him a text saying thank you for everything because Jason Taylor resurrected my career. He gave me a chance and trusted me and believed in me, especially when I was playing reserve grade at the Panthers. He got me in here, into the starting team and straight into the leadership group, because he wanted more leaders in our team.
“He did so much for me. To see the way he was treated – the way he left, the way he was stabbed – mate, it hurt. Him coming to visit my wife and my daughter when he didn’t have to – that meant a lot to me. It just goes to show the quality of JT the person. He’s a real family man. He was really concerned about my daughter.”
Apart from a brief stint at Fox Sports, Jason Taylor has avoided the spotlight since his sacking. But, when asked about Elijah’s ordeal, he was quick to reiterate his support for his former player.
“Elijah is one of the most focused and committed players I have ever coached,” Jason Taylor said. “His situation with his daughter was very scary and enormously tough for him and his wife. I supported him as any coach or friend should. Elijah’s awareness of his responsibility to the team and the culture of the club is rare and refreshing. He puts the team before himself at every opportunity. He was a pleasure to coach.”
Elijah Taylor is a private man. That’s why there are no names or photos of his two children in this story. He’s now also a changed man.
“We take a lot for granted,” he said.
“Kids growing up fine and healthy, but when you’re in a hospital ward next to a kid who has been in there for two years, it makes you appreciate what you have got. We thought our story was bad. It really woke you up to life and football.”