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PHOTO COURTESY OF WALTERS FAMILY
Jon Walters, far right, is shown in a recent family photo with, from left, his brother Matt, mother Jacque, father Bill, sister Ali, and brother James, who was with Jon on the night before he fell ill.

Walters family reveals details about son's final days

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

NEWPORT COAST – As Jacque Walters began to talk, her son, James, stood closely by her side, wrapped his chiseled arm around her back and tightly squeezed her shoulder.

He didn't let go.

The support of family and friends was clearly visible at the Walters home Friday night, just two days after the death of former Mater Dei star water polo player and promising USC freshman Jon Walters, 19.

A visiting pastor was in one room. A dinner had been delivered by someone. And Jacque stood in the patio retracing the final agonizing days of her son's all-too-short life.

“It's the biggest heartache,” she said. “We didn't have enough time.”

James, a Mater Dei senior water polo player, provided his mother sturdy support along with insight into a death that has rocked and also puzzled the tight-knit water polo community.

Between the two, a clear picture emerged, starting with a surgical procedure a few weeks earlier and later involving prescribed medication, including Xanax, and drinking at a New Year's Eve party.

The official cause of death likely won't be known for a month or two because the toxicology results from the autopsy usually take eight to 12 weeks, said Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman for the O.C. Sheriff's Department.

The Walters family said Jon died Wednesday from a heart attack after battling kidney failure and pneumonia. Jon's father, Bill, said he fell into a coma on Jan. 1.

The accounts from Jacque and James are expansive, and gut-wrenching.

But on the path to Jon Walters' death Wednesday at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, an elbow injury and surgery last month emerges as a gateway.

Jon had surgery at Keck Hospital at USC for what was believed to be a fractured elbow on Dec. 18, just 10 days after the Trojans captured a record sixth consecutive NCAA title, the family said.

Jon ended up with a clean break in his elbow and about a 6-inch pin inserted near the point of his elbow, Jacque said.

Jon received medicine after the surgery for pain and nausea, his mother said. But by about Dec. 26, Jon stopped taking his pain medicine for his post-surgery recovery, James said.

“He didn't like the way the pills made him feel,” said James, who has committed to USC.

Jon Walters spent his winter break from USC at his parents' home in Newport Coast. He rested in bed and watched movies while his arm was in a cast and later in a sling and brace, James said.

On New Year's Eve, he traveled alone to a party with friends in the Orange area, James said. It was a gathering of old friends from Mater Dei, Jacque said.

James, who turns 18 Saturday, later met his brother at the party.

The boys' parents weren't at the party, but Jacque was told that Jon consumed some alcohol.

“Everyone that was with him said he hardly drank at all,” she said.

The Walters family also heard that Jon at some point took Xanax, a psychoactive drug that he was prescribed for insomnia.

“He had horrible insomnia, since we were little kids,” James said. “I know he took (Xanax) on New Year's (Day). … He just took that regular dose.”

But the mixing of Xanax and alcohol has been known to be dangerous.

“He had to know better (than to mix),” Jacque said.

James said he went to sleep at the party before Jon, making plans for breakfast in the morning. But when James woke up, he noticed something was wrong with his brother.

“Jon just didn't look right,” he said. “You could tell he was in pain.”

James said he called 911 around 11:45 a.m. and Jon was transported by ambulance to nearby Chapman Medical Center in Orange.

The O.C. Sheriff's Department reported that Jon arrived at Chapman Medical Center unresponsive.

After a few days, Jon was transferred to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he remained until he died.

He suffered a first heart attack Monday but recovered, James said. By Tuesday, Jon was progressing to the point that there was discussion of him returning home.

“It looked like we were going to take him out by Friday and have him home,” James said. “(But) meanwhile, the pneumonia is working in his lungs.”

Jon suffered a fatal heart attack Wednesday afternoon.

Looking back, Jacque believes her son's body, already stressed from the elbow surgery, couldn't survive when faced with kidney failure and pneumonia. James said his brother developed pneumonia while hospitalized.

It was like a perfect storm of challenges, a family member said.

“The whole immune system was down,” Jacque said. “Probably what happened is that his body said, ‘Hey, I've been through a lot here, and I can't take it.'”

The seas are still stormy for the Walters family. But James hopes to find some peace Sunday by hosting a paddle out in his bother's honor, just north of the Newport Beach pier. The ceremony will be held about 45 minutes before sunset.

“He will always be my hero,” James said.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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