'Hug your children': Suburban parents mourn teenage son after unexpected death

A Crestwood teen who attended high school in Palos Heights died unexpectedly over the weekend – leaving the community in shock.

Ryan Plowman, 17, passed away at Comer Children's Hospital on Saturday from complications of mononucleosis.

Described as a star athlete on the soccer field and a stellar student in the classroom, Plowman – a senior at Shepard High School – had his sights set on attending Butler University after graduation, with hopes of becoming a pharmacist.

"He was perfect, he was a great student," said Dan Plowman, Ryan’s dad. "He was extremely hard-working. If he started to do something, he was going to succeed at it."

A center back for his high school soccer team, Plowman had just competed in the state playoffs, assisting his team to win the 3A regional title last month.

But as his high school soccer career was coming to a close, he started feeling sick and days later, his parents say his sore throat got worse.

"He was my everything. I told him he was my everything the day before he really got sick."


When his parents took him to the hospital, they never imagined that he wouldn't be coming home.

"Don’t take life for granted. Hug your children, love your children. You don’t know, tomorrow’s not promised," Jen Plowman, Ryan’s mom.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, after battling the viral infection in the hospital for one week, Plowman was taken off life support.  

"It went from being better to absolutely horrific in a matter of minutes," said Dan Plowman.

Mononucleosis is an infection often caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It causes fatigue, sore throat and fever, among other symptoms. It is common among teenagers and young adults, especially college students. It is often called the "kissing disease" and spreads through saliva.

While mono rarely leads to death, it can be fatal in some cases.

"Unfortunately for some folks, if they are dealing with an immuno-compromised system already, they can go on to have further complications from this virus," said Hannah Holmes, lead advanced practice provider at RUSH University Medical Center.

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Plowman was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease two years ago. His parents say that doctors tell them while his treatment plan was effective for his autoimmune condition, it compromised his immune system to the point where his body couldn't fight the mononucleosis.

Now, Jen and Dan Plowman are honoring their son’s memory by sharing the light Ryan brought to their lives.

"Loving and caring, genuine," said Jen Plowman. "He would always put others first."

This Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., a vigil will be held at the Shepard High School stadium for anyone who would like to pay tribute to Ryan.

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe account has been set up by Shepard High School's varsity boys’ soccer coach to "cover medical costs, lost wages, upcoming funeral expenses as well as other unexpected needs that may be incurred."

"Everyone loved him instantaneously. It was Ryan’s good attitude and likable personality that drew the multitude of family and friends to be by his side at Comer Children’s Hospital for a week as he courageously fought mononucleosis," Zeno Toscas said in the description of the GoFundMe page.