JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- JT Townsend's smile was infectious. Paralyzed in 2004 after a hard hit at a high school football game, JT turned his tragedy into triumph by starting a foundation to help other people with disabilities.
"The first time we met him, [it] changed our lives," said family friend Tommy Zitiello. He and his wife, Judi, were close to JT. Judi heads up the board of directors for the JT Townsend Foundation
She said JT's mom broke the news of his death to her just before 1 a.m. on Wednesday. "His mother said that he slumped over in the chair, and it appeared that his heart stopped beating," she said.
She said doctors were unable to revive him. JT died of a heart attack. The Zitiellos say it was sudden, unforeseen, and shocking.
Fighting back tears, Judi said, "We know he's in heaven, and dancing."
Tommy agreed, adding, "JT made us all better, made us a better person, better people."
The Zitiellos say the foundation will continue to provide people with disabilities adaptive equipment and financial assistance. Visit the foundation's website
for ways to help.
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[SLIDESHOW: REMEMBERING JT TOWNSEND