Johnson City family searches for hope as teenager battles mystery illness


BRISTOL, Tenn. - A 19-year-old is in hospice in Bristol, and it is still a still mystery why she is so ill. Emma Harrod and her family is now finding strength in faith and community.

"She just loves to laugh," Emma's mother, Jodie, told News 5.

Emma's family describes her a source of joy. Even her goal to become a midwife shows her will to serve others. As a college freshman, Emma accepted a volleyball scholarship to Bryan College. Emma's father, Mark Harrod, said, "She was someone who wanted to try anything in the school setting. Her senior year she joined the chess team, but had never played chess in her whole life." Last November, Emma suffered a terrible headache that never went away. Instead, it worsened with a series of seizures. At one point, Emma was in a coma.

"Her illness came on without warning. There was no prediction, no precipitating factors, no cause that can be pinpointed," Mark said.

Doctors in both Johnson City and Knoxville tried for months to pinpoint a diagnosis.

Jodie said, "Just when we thought it was getting better and they had determined it was meningitis, then she just took a turn for the worst."

Doctors are still unable to identify an exact illness. The family is now getting care for Emma at Wellmont's Hospice House. With community support, they hope to bring her home in December. "We have to have an additional room to our lower level and a bathroom that is accessible to Emma," Jodie said. The family is also relying on their strong faith to get them through the next steps for Emma. Mark is the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jonesborough, and he told us the church has been a resource for providing some comfort in their time of need. Mark said, "We don't know what the outcome will be, but we believe that with God's grace, we will keep pressing on and see whatever that is and know that he will supply what we need at that time."

Emma is also a graduate of Providence Academy in Johnson City. The volleyball team is dedicating their varsity game on Thursday, Sept. 21 to "Bring Emma Home." The game against Happy Valley will start at 5:30 p.m., and all of the proceeds from the concession stand will go to assist the Harrod family. Those in attendance will also be able to donate to the family directly.

Anyone wishing to assist the family in their accommodations to the home can find information here.

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