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Ill student beats odds and graduates on time

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1.5 from 4 votes
Friday, May 21, 2010

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Cimiyun Benson II spent many of his high school days in hospitals, missing homecoming football games, proms, class pictures.

But he does not intend to miss graduation.

Despite a debilitating disease that has required four major surgeries, he will graduate on time tonight when he walks across the stage with the Columbia High School Class of 2010 of Decatur.

The 18-year-old suffers from a rare auto-immune disorder called dermatomyositis. He survived kidney failure and a collapsed lung.

“It’s a fight every day with this disease," he said. "There is no cure.

“I had missed so much school, my main thing was to graduate. I can’t pursue the type of career I want if I drop out.”

Benson, who wants to be an engineer, managed to do what more than 15 percent of his peers at Columbia High couldn’t do – graduate in four years.

He credits his success to self-determination and a strong support system at home and school.

Benson was diagnosed in January 2008, in his sophomore year. Within months, he had gone from hoping to tryout for football to hoping he could walk without getting winded. He has trouble climbing stairs, has lost the endurance to run and finds getting up out of a chair to be a chore at times.

His mother, Teneshia Harris-Benson, said her son was first weakened by flu-like symptoms for months. Doctors later prescribed a drug for lupus patients they believed could improve his symptoms. It was risky, but he wanted to give it a try.

“He said if it is going to get me back in school, go ahead and do it,” his mother said. “But once he got the drug, it ended up eating through his intestines. He was hospitalized for nine months. He got to the point where he was losing liters of blood and there was nothing else they could do. But the whole time he just kept saying he wanted to graduate with his class. He wanted to do his schoolwork. He couldn’t even lift a pen.”

Teachers and administrators at Columbia High say the magnet student is an inspiration. Benson missed so much school, he was switched to home-bound instruction where he could learn algebra in his living room with a certified teacher. He spent his entire senior year at home yet never missed a project or assignment. He was among 71 percent of Columbia students to pass every section of the Georgia High School Graduation Test on the first try.

“I just think for any student to stay focused on their education regardless of their challenges is commendable and his challenges were life-threatening,” said Columbia High principal Morcease Beasley. “He’s a very smart young man.”

Benson's mother also was thrilled about his test results. "When they told us that he had passed all four parts it brought me to tears," she said. "He didn't want to graduate with his sister, who is a junior."

There was a time relatives and teachers were uncertain whether Benson would have a future. During his worst bout, he had been hospitalized for months at Egleston Children's Hospital at Emory. He was unconscious, on life support, with a feeding tube.

Columbia High’s head counselor, Joanne Jackson-Jones, the school graduation coach and classmates came to visit.

“He was very, very weak and had lost 40 pounds,” Jackson-Jones said. “I gave him one of my favorite books by Walter Payton called ‘Never Die Easy’ about his life as a football player and his struggle after he found out he had cancer. He gave it all he had.”

When Benson got better and went home, Stacey Wells, his teacher, brought him his school work and kept his spirits up when he was feeling sad about missing classes.

“I would help him, but for the most part he pretty much did everything on his own," she said. "I look up to him. He is an inspiration."

 

© 2010 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Author: By D. Aileen Dodd
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
1.5
1.5 from 4 votes
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