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Childhood Stroke Victim Lives Life as ‘A Normal Kid’

Categories: Assistive Technology, Disability Type, In the News, Learning Disabilities

OSU freshman who rose above strokes as a child thrives as an engineering major

This article and video interview, by reporter Jeb Phillips, was posted to The Columbus Dispatch site on January 16, 2014. 

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Joseph HortonIf people see anything different about Joe Horton after what he has experienced, they see his trembling hands. They are more likely to note, as the freshman lugs physics and calculus books through the Ohio State University campus, that he is 6 feet 5 inches tall and handsome. Some of his classmates do notice his hands, though. And they ask questions. “It (the shaking) always happens,” he tells them. “Don’t worry about it.” He doesn’t. Horton suffered a series of strokes as a child that at times left him unable to walk, to read, to speak clearly. He might have had a dozen strokes or 20. He endured so many that where one stopped and the next began couldn’t be determined easily. Now, at age 18 and in the honors program at a big university, he is studying engineering. So he isn’t about to pay much attention to tremors. “I try to focus on the task, not the challenge,” he said. Learning Ally, a New Jersey nonprofit once known as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, announced last week that Horton is one of 15 winners of its National Achievement Awards for “academic excellence, extraordinary leadership and service to others.” Horton began using Learning Ally’s recorded books as a student at Thomas Worthington High School. His teachers there wrote nominating letters. Among them was Chad Kentner, an intervention specialist who, Horton said, saw his intelligence beneath the learning issues. “He’s done an amazing job,” Kentner said of his former student. “He really knows what he has to do to access his potential. ... It’s a great example for the other students.” Horton was in the second grade when the strokes started, although his parents at first didn’t think much about the fact that his legs were falling asleep. Then, on a tire swing one day, half of his body went numb. And a friend’s father saw that Joe was swerving hard to the left when he walked. He was treated and returned home. A month later, he had other strokes. He went to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, then to the Cleveland Clinic. Horton’s parents were stunned. “Your grandma has a stroke — not your second-grader,” said mother Ann Horton, 55. Doctors diagnosed central-nervous-system vasculitis, or blood-vessel inflammation, in Joe Horton’s brain. It happens when the immune system attacks the body, but it is usually unclear why. Horton went on a drug regimen and, in time, improved. But his teachers noticed that he wasn’t learning new information. Testing showed that he wasn’t seeing some words or parts of words. The strokes had knocked out slivers of his visual field, hurting his ability to see how letters form words. Tutors and other accommodations through his individualized education plan with Worthington schools helped. So did reading aloud at home. As his learning improved, the worry receded. Then, in the eighth grade, Joe had another series of strokes. Some of the problems reappeared. More important to Horton, however, were the restrictions placed on him — no contact sports, for example, when he wanted only to be the same as other kids. He also struggled with his own fear. “I had anxieties about the future,” Horton said. “ Am I going to be able to go to college? Am I going to die?” He and his family went to counseling. But his Christian faith ultimately led Horton to realize that focusing on being his best made more sense than worrying about what could happen. He still learns best when listening to recorded books while he reads them. He uses a talk-to-text computer program because his trembling hands make fluid writing and typing difficult. Although Joe Horton stopped worrying about college, his mother didn’t. He chose the biggest possible university to attend and a tough major, Mrs. Horton said. Maybe he still needed her help? Maybe he needed to come home from his dorm on the weekends? Nope. She saw her son once during the first couple of months of classes. She has to text him to “Call your mother” because he doesn’t. He’s a college freshman. That’s all. “In my own way,” Joe Horton said, “I’m a normal kid now.”

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Read the full article and enjoy the video interview with Joseph Horton, published by The Columbus Dispatch.

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