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Overcoming adversity

Austyn Cummings

My whole story starts when I was 18 years old and, to pass time, I would go to the high school baseball field nearly every morning and night by myself — hitting baseball after baseball to what felt like escaping reality.

When I was at the field, it was me, the ball, and my music; nothing else mattered. I grew obsessed to getting better at baseball and trying to take it to the next level.

One night after going 0-for-3 in a region high school baseball game, I got on the bus and when we got home, I got in my truck and immediately went to the batting cage. I turned my high beams on, grabbed my bat and balls, and hit for nearly an hour before going home again.

I worked very hard to become the best I could be, and finally earned a scholarship to an NCAA Division 2 school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, named Millersville University.

I was on cloud nine, and I was so excited to conquer my next journey in life. Mr. Jon Shehan was such a genuine and honest man and he was one of the reasons I was so ready to go to school and play at the next level. I knew Mr. Shehan would develop me into an elite college baseball player.

I finished out the rest of summer enjoying time with friends, my girlfriend, and family, and also working every day for our family company, Huber Blacktop LLC. I had a great summer with everyone and said my goodbyes — which was hard but it was time to get to work at school.

I arrived at Millersville and was moved in and finally getting used to everything. Practices were exactly what I hoped they would be — very structured and intense. Schooling, on the other hand, seemed to give me some troubles. I found it very hard to learn in a lecture-style environment and studying gave me nearly no time to enjoy myself. I was stressed out and, on top of that, I wasn’t big into partying, so when I did have free time, I didn’t want to party. I hung out with several kids I had met and did other things like going to high school football games. Eventually, I just became so depressed and had a lost feeling that I decided to drop out of school because I felt it was not the right thing for me at the time. I returned home to get my head straight.

That fall I continued blacktopping and making money. I was happy again and was very content with the decision I made to leave school. My brother, Bryce, and I hung out all the time and worked together.

One day after work I got home and went to the restroom and I had noticed my stool had blood in it. I didn’t think anything of it and continued working and didn’t go to the doctor. Weeks had past and I still had bloody stool so I had mentioned it to my mom and she was concerned so I started to pay more attention. The blood got worse and I started getting pain in my stomach. I went to the doctor and he set me up to do a blood test. I got very bad very quickly and stopped working and stayed home. I was up every 30 minutes at night, so my mother and I drove to the ER and was told that I needed to try to eat gluten and dairy free.

The next morning I had an appointment with Dr. Vucollo at Warren General. As he examined me, he felt a mass in my right side so he sent me to get a CT scan. The scan showed severe inflammation in my intestines so they admitted me into the hospital. I began receiving pain medicine and many other meds to try to help me get better. I was NPO (not allowed to eat or drink) for several days and was only allowed to eat ice chips. They had wanted to do a colonoscopy but were worried of perforation. After one week and no progress, loads of pain, and bloody stools with frequent restroom trips, they transferred me to Saint Vincent Hospital in Erie. I was finally put under to do a colonoscopy. Unfortunately, they only could go so far during the procedure because my intestines were significantly enflamed. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and several days later, I was given my first dose of Remicade.

Remicade is a biologic that is given to patients with Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease to try to reduce inflammation in their intestines. I was allowed to eat again and started feeling better.

Now, one week had passed and my symptoms had came back with a vengeance. I lost 30 pounds while in Erie and was so weak that my parents had to help me use the restroom. I was only allowed ice chips again. I spent my birthday in the hospital but my loving family members and girlfriend came to celebrate anyway.

Now, I was transferred to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. I still had a pain pump I could use every seven minutes that was stronger than morphine and I still had pain. My new doctor was a surgeon named Dr. Nosik, and he told me that I can try more potent Biologics like Remicade, which could lead to complications, or I could get surgery to remove my entire large intestine. I was very intimidated because I decided to get the surgery, but this would mean I would have an ostomy.

Before I could have surgery, I had to get healthier because I was now down 40 pounds and malnourished. I was given a PICC line that is essentially an IV that is put in you bicep vein and leads straight to the heart. I began receiving TPN nutrition through the PICC line for a week to get me ready for surgery because I was still unable to eat anything by mouth.

It was surgery day and the time had come and I was just ready to get it over with. I sat in anticipation for hours upon hours as a nervous wreck waiting for surgery, but they were behind schedule. Finally, they came to get me and the last thing I remember is all the doctors around me talking to me and getting me ready, then I was asleep. I woke up on the surgery table with a five-inch incision from my belly button down. The doctors said my intestine was the worst he had seen in 20 years of doing these procedures. I had gone septic and they had to flush me out during surgery.

I was eventually put back in my room and was very uncomfortable. I had a drain in my pelvis that stuck out of my side, a catheter, a drain in my rectum, and now an ostomy. I was still in tons of pain and could not get comfy.

I soon developed hospital sycosis in which I developed very bad anxiety at night and felt as if I was crawling out of my skin. My eyes would roll back in my head and I felt as if I was going crazy. I had been in the hospital for 4 weeks at this point. I hadn’t slept more than three hours consecutively for nearly three weeks and was so exhausted weak and defeated. I talked with counselor because I felt like I would never feel normal again and live a normal, independent life like I had recently. I would randomly sit in my room for hours and look outside and think of how people I could see got to smell fresh air and eat food and have no pain. I would sit and wish I could go outside and be normal and not have my ostomy anymore.

I would sit there and cry for hours and I hated everything so much. I didn’t talk to friends anymore and I just wanted to feel better and go home. My absolutely amazing girlfriend, Corinn, had helped me the whole time dealing with my emotions and making me feel better. She had come down to see me and spend the night with me and my parents in the room and she is what I believe gave me the extra boost to start moving more and get health and strong again.

Five long weeks later my parents, Corinn, and I got the news I was going home and I was so happy and excited to finally be out of the hospital scene.

While being home, it had taken me a few months to finally start feeling normal again and doing things I used to do alone like go for rides. I finally was out of pain and still getting used to my new ostomy. I was told in several months I would be able to receive a j-pouch in which would get rid of my ostomy and hook me back up to my anus.

We have talked with Dr. Vucollo from Warren General and my pathology reports show I have Crohn’s disease but my surgeon thinks I had Ulcerative Colitis.

We have to decide that if I do have Crohn’s I will be keeping my ostomy because a j-pouch could lead to further complications. J-pouch surgery is also known as ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA) surgery. The procedure avoids the need for a permanent opening in the abdomen (stoma) for passing bowel movements essentially. Honestly I’m okay with keeping my ostomy for now because I have grown very used to it and it doesn’t stop me from golfing or doing things I love.

Many people have it worse than I do so why be upset or mad when I’m in good health now and can have my life back? While in the hospital I had stumbled upon an old hobby of mine, golf, while I was on my phone. I started watching more and more tournaments and videos online and became obsessed again. I went to our local course once I was feeling good and played nine holes and was so happy to be out doing things I love again. A man I know by the name of John Bortz whose family owns the course I play at mentioned he would like to speak with me about my story. We began talking and I mentioned working for him because it would be easier for me than blacktopping and Mr. Bortz was thrilled I showed interest and hired me nearly a week later. I’ve been working now for Cable Hollow Golf Course for nearly a month and I absolutely love my job and co-workers. I am very happy where things have ended up and I know this wonderful opportunity will lead me to great things in my future. Mr. John Bortz has been a mentor to me and has taught me so much already and I appreciate everything he has done for me more than I can ever tell him.

What I have learned from all the hardships I have faced so far in life is that if you are relentless, and don’t let bad things distract you from your dreams, you can achieve anything.

I believe everything has happened to me for a reason and, hey, you never know, if this didn’t happen I may not have the job I have now and may not have the opportunities that have been presented to me. My family, friends, and girlfriend have been my backbone and supported me through everything. What I hope others take from this is to love others and help others in times of need even if your just an ear to talk to it helps. In life you can’t get defeated because bad things happen or something doesn’t go your way, that’s life, and I promise it will beat you to your knees if you let it. Everything happens for a reason and God works in mysterious ways. Go into every day with a smile and positivity and I promise it can make a world of a difference.

Austyn Cummings is a 2019 graduate of Warren Area High School, and the son of Don and Chris Cummings, both of Warren

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