By Brent Taylor
Like many recent high school graduates, Conyers resident Timothy Hamrick faces an immediate future that is a little uncertain. The 20-year-old plans to leave for college in the fall and wants to major in something related to computers.
Matt and Cathy Hamrick, his parents, are worried.
"It's going be harder on us than him," Matt Hamrick said of his son's impending departure.
Unlike most kids leaving home for the first time, Timothy will cope with challenges and uncertainties compounded by complications due to an inoperable tumor on his brain stem.
"I think I can (do it)," he said about entering college. "I'm ready to get out."
If all goes according to planned, Timothy will attend fall semester at Gordon College in Barnesville. But with his condition, nothing is ever certain.
In November 2002, when Timothy was a 15-year-old freshman at Salem High School, a doctor noticed that his voice was raspy and suggested he see an ear, nose and throat specialist. The specialist found that his vocal cords were partially paralyzed and recommended he get an MRI. The MRI revealed a tumor on his brain stem.
"I will never forget it," said his father of the day they learned about the tumor. "It was an awful day."
The family got the news about the test results as they sat at home eating their lunch together. Timothy said he thought his father was kidding at first. Then he asked later if he was going to die.
After the discovery of the tumor, Timothy was admitted to Egleston Hospital where doctors performed a biopsy. The biopsy revealed that the tumor was benign, but it could not be removed due to the location. The biopsy led to complications that affect Timothy's vision, speech and muscle coordination. Today, he uses a wheelchair much of the time.
Matt Hamrick said his son nearly died because of the biopsy procedure.
"We thought he was gone," he said. "Cathy and I left the room."
Eventually Timothy's condition was stabilized, but it was a long time until he improved.
Later, the family discovered that Timothy had had a stroke during the surgery. He also got pneumonia several times and a hernia and was in and out of the hospital. Cathy Hamrick had to quit her job with SunTrust after 18 years because she
couldn't take any more time off. Now, she baby-sits for extra income.
At 15 years old, Timothy weighed only 85 pounds. He said he remembers one of the hardest parts of the recovery was being unable eat due to the possibility of infection. Timothy had to use a feeding tube for months. He said he would sneak food when his parents were out, which may have led to one of his bouts with pneumonia.
Timothy's parents were hesitant to cook because it would make the house smell like food and only frustrate their son. They said they knew he was sneaking food, but they couldn't blame him.
"What can you do?" Matt Hamrick said. "You can't lock the refrigerator every time you leave."
Through all of this, Timothy managed to complete his ninth and 10th grade years with the help of a tutor. He then returned to Salem High School for part of his junior year and his senior year, even though he admitted he was hesitant.
"I didn't want to, but (my parents) pressured me," he said. "I'm glad they did."
Though the doctors said school would be good for him, Timothy was afraid of how his friends and fellow students would view him. He said, "They weren't mean," but that "people treat you different."
Timothy said that he
doesn't have as many reservations about going away to college now that he's more comfortable using a wheelchair.
"I've accepted it," he said. "It's not new to me anymore."
Timothy obtained a scholarship to Gordon College and he plans on living on campus in the dormitories. He recently received money through the Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation's Operation Round Up program to motorize the wheels on his wheelchair. The motorized wheels will help him more easily navigate the campus, especially the hills.
After almost a year without any additional health problems, Timothy spent this past weekend in the emergency room due to nose bleeds and high blood pressure. He might have to return to his daily regiment of medication, which includes anti-nausea medication, medicine to aid his breathing, anti-depressants and several others.
His parents can't help but ask what would have happened had their son been away at college this past weekend. But Timothy said he was confident he could have handled it.
"I don't feel special," he said. "Other people have it just as hard. You have to deal with the problems you have."
Matt Hamrick believes that his son's struggle to survive and succeed has made Timothy stronger.
"I think it's built his character," he said. "That's one tough kid."
Brent Taylor is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. If
you have a story idea, e-mail Karen Rohr, features editor, at email@example.com.