We are taking the month of February 2016 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.
UF freshman Jonathan Nugent was in the fifth grade when he was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The outbursts, anger and defiance toward the authority figures in his life generated lots of phone calls from his principal. His parents were mystified.
Then, in the sixth grade, Nugent began experiencing what his family called “spells;” periods of time when he reported unusual odors and began to sweat for no reason. The spells became worse, until one day when he couldn’t speak, except for “baby talk.”
“My mother is a nurse,” said Nugent. “She thought it might be a problem with blood sugar, so I went to the emergency department at our local hospital. The doctor ordered a Cat-scan and MRI.”
The next day, the lives of Nugent and his family changed forever. The tests showed a brain tumor . . . but hospital physicians thought it would be easily operable. They were optimistic that the entire tumor could be removed.
“I was diagnosed on March 31,” Nugent added. “At first, like a typical middle school kid, I thought it might be pretty neat. I’d have a cool scar and get to miss the rest of the school year. “ What transpired was certainly not “neat,” and caused him to not only miss the last nine weeks of the sixth grade, but the first nine weeks of the seventh grade as well.
Relocation and Rehabilitation
The family was given a choice. Since there wasn’t treatment for Nugent’s tumor available in his hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana, they could travel to Chicago or Indianapolis. After his mother talked with some friends in the medical field, they settled on the Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. Nugent and his mother packed bags and rented a “combination apartment/motel room” near the hospital.
“Because the equipment at Riley was more sophisticated, the doctors discovered that the tumor was wrapped around my carotid artery. The surgeon couldn’t remove the whole thing, so I needed both chemotherapy and radiation,” he recalled.
Nugent and his mother stayed in Indianapolis five days a week and returned home to Valparaiso on weekends. He underwent two rounds of chemotherapy and also traveled to Indiana University’s Proton Therapy Center for radiation treatments. (Proton radiation is so precise, that surrounding healthy tissue can often be spared.)
His smile never wavering, Nugent confessed, “I got every possible side effect and sometimes vomited 20 to 30 times a day.” Now, seven years later, he admits he still doesn’t have much of an appetite.
Back at home, Nugent’s father continued to operate his accounting practice and his 13-year-old brother became the “mom,” doing laundry and cooking. His younger sister missed her mother.
By winter of the seventh grade, Nugent returned to school and fell easily back into the classroom routine. It wasn’t until he enrolled at UF that he realized he had lost some ground being away from middle school for several months.
“I think my reading still suffers,” he added. “I really didn’t do any work at home or in the classroom while I was in treatment, so I lost some ground.”
Despite his long absence, Nugent managed to graduate seventh in his class from Washington Township High School. He knew he wanted to major in physical therapy and, preferably, specialize in sports injuries. An accomplished soccer player, he had served as an athletic trainer assistant while in high school. The University of Findlay was the right size, offered the right major and was the right distance from home. He became an Oiler in the fall of 2015.
UF – Challenging But Supportive
Talking with Nugent during a break between classes, one doesn’t get any “vibes” of bitterness or defeat. On the contrary, he speaks in positive tones about dealing with the symptoms that continue to plague him.
“I don’t want to be a couch potato,” he mused. “I’m not the type to sit around and say ‘poor me.’ I think my Dad had a lot to do with my attitude. He always pushed me, but in a good way.”
Nugent, who still experiences seizures, TIA’s (mini strokes) and hemiplegic migraines, can’t work up a lot of sympathy, however, for classmates who complain that life is too hard.
“I hear my friends complain about team practice and I want to tell them that they chose to play a sport and to suck it up.”
Some classmates at UF know of his condition and all of his instructors are aware of it. He has checked in occasionally with the Office of Disability Services, but said that being able to take a little extra time on tests is the only concession he’s allowed himself. He drives himself back to “Valpo” with little trouble, except a few problems with night vision.
Nugent doesn’t feel like he’s accomplishing something all that impressive. He is proud of the fact that he’s raised more than $30,000 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and participates in UF leadership programs.
As he left to visit an uncle in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, he explained his agenda for the weekend.
“I’ll stop by the Health Center and check in with them and maybe pick up some Ibuprofen. Then I’ll get on the road. My uncle has some property and we’ll be working non-stop to get it ready for sale. It’s a lot to get done in a couple of days.
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