Saturday, June 09, 2007

Taking a risk with brain surgery can change your life for the better!

During a commencement speech, Alyssa Monroe told fellow Hickman High School graduates to be willing to take chances.

"If you want bigger rewards, take bigger risks," Alyssa challenged 575 graduates during Hickman’s afternoon graduation ceremony at Mizzou Arena.

It’s a lesson one graduating Kewpie has already learned.

In the summer, John Grupe gambled for a chance to live without epileptic seizures, undergoing a dangerous brain operation at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis.

"It was a leap of faith," said his dad, Greg Grupe, who is also Hickman’s senior class principal. "There was a possibility it could have blinded him, or he could have lost his ability to speak."
John has spent the past eight years dealing with epilepsy, a neurological condition that causes seizures.

The seizures usually aren’t severe, he said, but they have prevented him from getting a driver’s license or participating in sports.

"It’s really hard," John said. "It impacts your life a lot. I didn’t get to do the things most high school students get to do."

He decided to wage war on the disability last year after he suffered more than 40 mini-seizures in one day.

Greg Grupe said he and John’s mom, Dixie, a Hickman teacher, left the decision up to their son.
"We didn’t fight him," Grupe said. "We talked a lot with him, but it was his decision. It was a chance to be seizure free, and he had to weigh that against the small possibility there would be problems."
The gamble paid off. While John isn’t completely cured, the seizures are a lot less frequent now. He might even be able to get his driver’s license if he can remain seizure-free over the next few months.

John believes the surgery also has made him a better person.

"It’s great not having as many any more," John said of the seizures.

"I’m happier in my surroundings. I’ve grown to be understanding and patient with everything."
He spent his senior year volunteering in a special needs classroom, saying he is able to relate to students with mental challenges. John is also thinking about pursuing a career in teaching, following the footsteps of his parents and sister Mary, who teaches at Rock Bridge High School.
But like many graduating seniors, John is keeping his options open. He will spend a year in the AmeriCorps before heading to college and deciding where his future will lead.

Other graduates who spoke during commencement said Hickman’s Class of 2007 would achieve greatness. Some could go on to find a cure for cancer or become the next Sam Walton or even the next president of the United States, graduate Thomas Goran said.

"We will make an impact, each one of us," graduate Lauren Fichter said. "We will make a difference in this world."

Greg Grupe is confident of that, not just for John, but for all graduating seniors.

"No matter what challenges arise in your life, if you believe in yourself and have a strong support system and you are a risk taker, you can do anything," Grupe said.

"I believe that about all the kids walking across that stage, but that one in particular."


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