We are taking the month of February 2017 to recognize four University of Findlay students who are dealing with a physical condition or disability. As one student said, “This is something I have. It does not define me. Never has. Never will.” As we present an article each week, you’ll come to learn what these students have in common. . . confidence, optimism, empathy and big plans for the future.
Casey Shannon, junior business management major, had just finished her freshman year at the University of Findlay and was spending Memorial Day of 2014 with family when an unknown birth defect came to light.
While assisting with her brother’s home renovations in her hometown of Bryant, Indiana, Shannon came down with a headache and nausea. Shannon took her family’s four-wheeler back to her house nearby to rest, but called her mom to come home when symptoms worsened.
“By the time she got there, I heard her say my name and that was it,” said Shannon. “Two weeks later I woke up in the hospital.”
Shannon awoke to a disturbing view of a hospital ceiling and an alarming discovery. All of her basic motor skills including walking, talking, vision, and swallowing were gone. She soon learned that during two weeks of unconsciousness and several CAT scans, a birth defect was discovered: arteriovenous malformation (AVM).
“When I was born, the arteries in my cerebellum formed like a tumbleweed. On the day I got sick, one of them had so much pressure that it broke apart and caused bleeding in my brain for two or three seconds,” Shannon explained. “My parents were given three options including chemotherapy and radiation where I would wake up completely normal, but be at risk of this happening again.”
Shannon’s parents chose the third option which involved a surgical procedure to cut out the “tumbleweed” section of arteries and allow them to grow back correctly. The benefit to this procedure is that Shannon does not have to worry about this happening ever again. However, the cost was losing all motor skills which required her to spend the next year and a half re-learning how to do many everyday tasks.
“At first I was mad at my parents for deciding this, but now I’m glad because I don’t have to worry about this happening ever again. I just have to worry about working on getting better, going to therapy, and improving my speech,” said Shannon. “If I was completely normal, I would live on the edge every day wondering when this is going to happen again.”
With little time to process everything that happened, Shannon immediately began her 18-month journey with numerous therapies to re-learn her motor skills including physical therapy, swallow therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy and occupational therapy.
After about a month and a half in the hospital, Shannon was able to finally go home.
“Since I’m older and have done everything before, it was easier to learn because I know what to do, I just need to get to that point,” she added. “When I got home, I could walk some, but couldn’t talk or chew food yet.”
She recalled the frustration of relying on her parents for many everyday tasks such as getting a drink from the kitchen. Shannon used this for motivation and to work as hard as she could with one goal in mind.
“Getting back to school was my only goal. I finished my freshman year and did wonderful, then I came home and this happened,” she confessed. “During therapy I told myself, ‘If I can’t do this, then I can’t go back to school.’”
Shannon returned to Findlay in January 2016, eager to regain her independence, but was a little nervous in regards to her western equestrian minor.
“I was excited because I knew I would have my independence again, but sometimes I was scared because things are so much different. ‘Am I going to be able to saddle up the horse? Get ready in time? Have enough time to get my work done?’, she admitted. “The first semester back, I did really well and it improved my confidence. I know I can get through the next couple years no big deal.”
Shannon occasionally utilizes note-takers and the testing center offered by the Office of Disability Services, which she considers her second home.
“I’ve come so much farther by working with them. They have become my family at school and understand what I’m going through,” said Shannon. “They help me with note-taking in classes. I can write, it’s just really slow because I don’t have the speed yet.”
Now at almost three years after the initial trip to the hospital, Shannon can fully rely on herself. She continues to strengthen her speech, writing speed, and vision, but wishes others would feel comfortable talking to her.
“I feel like people with disabilities have the loudest minds, but no one ever talks to them,” she added. “I don’t have as strong of speech as I should because I don’t use it much. I can’t exercise my voice because people won’t ask me questions.”
Although Shannon has made great strides in a short amount of time, her ability to be confident and feel ‘comfortable in her own skin’ may be her biggest feat. She encourages others with disabilities to be open to sharing their stories as well.
“For the longest time, people stayed away from me thinking I was sick. I want people to come up to me, ask questions, and not be shy,” said Shannon. “I may look different, but I’m the same Casey I was before.”