In eighth grade, Hall senior Grant Garland was assigned to write a paper.
It was open topic, so he decided to write about his life.
“It’s a story that I knew and I thought it’d be good if people knew about it,” Garland said.
It is, after all, a pretty incredible story.
It began like this: I had a better chance of winning the lottery than being born with the birth defect Esophageal Atresia (EA).
About one in every 4,000 live births result in Esophageal Atresia.
Only 7.7 percent of those are Type A, which is commonly referred to as “long gap” Esophageal Atresia.
“Long gap” Esophageal Atresia is when the esophagus is separated into two parts — one coming from the mouth and the other from the stomach — with each ending in blind pouches.
Garland was born on Sept. 2, 1995 at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley.
Initially, he appeared healthy.
However, a short time later, a nurse noticed he was having trouble swallowing, and later an X-ray revealed he had no esophagus.
Garland was taken in a neonatal ambulance to St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria where he was diagnosed with Type A Esophageal Atresia and had a feeding tube inserted into his stomach.
“It was a shock to say the least,” said Grant’s mother, Sue, who was alone at St. Margaret’s when the problem was initially discovered. “I knew absolutely nothing (about the condition). Back then, there wasn’t the Internet you could go on now. There was a student from the nursing program (at OSF) who actually copied information out of a book for me about esophageal atresia.”
Grant stayed in Peoria until just before Thanksgiving with Sue and Jim, Grant’s father, visiting daily.
When he came home, Grant had 24-hour nursing until he returned to Peoria for surgery on Dec. 26, 1995.
During the surgery, doctors went through Grant’s back near his shoulder blades to stretch his esophagus and connect the two ends.
The surgery was successful, and at the time, Grant’s was the largest esophageal gap ever connected at OSF, according to Sue.
While Grant was recovering in intensive care, he was receiving morphine.
However, Grant wasn’t urinating, and eventually, the three-month old overdosed and flat-lined.
A crash cart was brought in, a bag valve mask was used because he wasn’t breathing and he was given a drug called Narcan to reverse the effects of the morphine.
“I honestly wasn’t handling the whole event too well,” Sue said. “My husband was with him. I was out in the hallway having a fit.”
Grant eventually came out of it and spent two more days in intensive care and two more weeks in the hospital — which included one more incident of trouble breathing — before going home.
On January 5, 1996, I drank my first bottle! I had trouble drinking from the bottle at first, but once I drank my first bottle I never had to use my g-tube again.
Nowadays, there’s little evidence of Grant’s condition aside from his scars, acid reflux medication and a careful approach to eating.
Because his esophagus was stretched and connected, it is shaped like an hourglass, so he has to take small bites and chew thoroughly to avoid food getting caught in the narrow center portion of his esophagus.
“I really can’t eat fast and when I eat, I always have to have a drink so I don’t choke,” Grant said. “(When I was young) I would always choke on my food because I would always take too big of bites and eat too fast. Pretty soon, I just learned to take my time.”
A problem occasionally arises.
A couple years ago, he got a piece of meat caught in his esophagus, so he had to go to the hospital to have it removed and have his esophagus stretched, a process where they put Grant to sleep and insert a rod into his esophagus.
I do not know how I can ever repay my family or the doctors and nurses who took care of me. I do know that I feel like God saved my life for a reason. I must be meant for something great.
Grant starts at cornerback and receiver on the Hall football team after playing mostly special teams last season, earning the spot through dedication, according to Hall coach Randy Tieman.
“He’s a hard worker,” Tieman said. “He’s here everyday. He never misses practice or the weight room.
“He’s not the biggest or the fastest, but he’s tough and not afraid to mix it up. He learned a lot as a junior, came in as a senior and got his chance and stuck.”
Last week, Grant made a key pass break-up late in the game that helped the Red Devils seal a 22-21 come-from-behind victory over Erie-Prophetstown to improve to 1-1 entering Friday’s game at Amboy-LaMoille.
Grant also runs track and over the years has been involved in a peer program, student council, Relay for Life and speech team, even winning a judge’s award despite needing speech classes through junior high.
After high school, Grant plans to attend IVCC before transferring to a four-year school. He may study to become a chiropractor.
“Every time he’s being strong willed and I’m not happy with him, I have to sit back and think, ‘My gosh, look what he’s done,’” Sue said. “He’s 18 years old, and when he was born we had no idea if he was even going to live to be six months or a year, and here he is now. He’s a senior, he’s going to be graduating, he’s played football all four years and he runs track. We’re just really fortunate.”
I am a survivor.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.