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The Shepard community is mourning football standout Ryan Plowman

On Oct. 22, Ryan Plowman was on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis as part of the joyous process of choosing a college for academics and football.

Less than two weeks later, his parents, Dan and Jen, were involved in the difficult process of deciding to take Ryan off the ventilator after he had been without a brain for several days.

Ryan died at 11.45pm on Saturday because his compromised immune system was unable to fight off complications from mononucleosis.

That two-week stretch brought shocking and sad news at Shepard High School, where Plowman, 17, was a popular student and standout football player who was instrumental in leading the Astros to one of the state’s biggest regional upsets in October.

“Even since kindergarten, he was the nicest guy,” said teammate and friend Aidan Breslin. “He always put others before himself. He was always a great listener and gave great advice.

“Nobody had a different opinion about him. Everyone agreed that he was a great guy, selfless and caring. Everything.”

Shepard will hold a vigil for Orato at the school’s stadium on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Visitation will be held Thursday from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM at Creswood Health and Wellness Center, 5331 W. 135th St. Crestwood. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. Damian Catholic Church, 5250 W. 155th St., Oak Forest.

The family is asking those in attendance to wear something orange or Shepard-like clothing. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Krone and Kalito Foundation.

A GoFundMe page has also been set up for the family at gofundme.com/f/ryan-ploughman-memorial. As of Tuesday morning, 950 donors had raised $71,980 of the $100,000 goal.

The page was created by Zeno Toskas, who was not only Ploumen’s coach, but also a friend of Dan and Jen Ploumen long before Ryan was born.

“I’ve known Ryan for a very, very long time since he was a kid,” Toscas said. “That really struck me.”

Toskas said he has known Jen Plowman all his life and said Dan is one of his dear friends.

“They are absolutely amazing people. For something so tragic to happen to them, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Toscas was with the family Friday when the parents made the decision to stop the ventilator and Saturday when people came to Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago to say goodbye to Ryan.

“They made a decision and they were at peace with it on Friday night,” Toskas said.

Saturday was difficult for the participants. The idea was to let visitors in for a few hours, but so many people showed up that the process took six hours.

“It was crazy. I never thought I would see him like this,” Breslin said. “I came at 11 and didn’t leave until 5. I didn’t even want to leave the room. It’s good that the team was able to say goodbye to him. No one wanted to see him like that, but everyone was able to say goodbye in their own way.”

There was also a large element of surprise in this death.

Ryan has always been athletic, and Toscas described him as “one of those big boys” who stood 6 feet tall and hoped to grow even bigger in college. Toscas said Ryan had no health problems until late 2021, when he developed Crohn’s disease.

Thanks to nutrition and a proper diet, Ryan was healthy enough to participate in the football season this fall and was an All-South Suburban Conference player at defensive back.

Few people knew Ryan was battling Crohn’s disease, which Toscas said could have caused his immune system to fail.

Breslin did know about Crohn’s disease, but never thought it could lead to this.

“It didn’t even occur to me that this was possible,” Breslin said. “Simply put, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with.”

Sandburg's Sebastian Burzynski (11) works the ball as Shepard's Ryan Plowman defends during a non-conference game at Orland Park on Sept. 7, 2022.

A day before Ryan’s visit to Butler, he helped lead fifth-seeded Shepard to a stunning 5-1 victory over top-seeded Sandburg to win the regional championship.

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The following Monday, Toscas said Ryan told him he wasn’t feeling well. The next day he played in Shepard’s 5-1 semi-final win over Bloom, and three days later he was in hospital.

Ryan went in for the procedure on Oct. 31 and his health took a turn for the worse, Toskas said.

“The doctors said there was a blockage in the respiratory system, and then he coded for 23 minutes,” Toskas said. “That was all. There is not enough oxygen in the brain and the brain functions are absent.’

News of Arat’s death reached social media and there was an outpouring of sympathy, including support from opposing teams like Sandburg.

“You know what? That’s the weirdest thing about it,” Toscas said. “I would have never expected anything like this. At least six of our competitors have donated. It’s crazy, for lack of a better word.

“The football community has been great.”

Jeff Worva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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