Grad marches forward despite bout with illness
Tonganoxie High School seniors flung their mortarboards excitedly into the air Saturday, celebrating the end of their high school years as they prepare to say hello to life after THS.
But for one senior, the future is uncertain.
Meet Jon Lane, an 18-year-old who was absent from school nearly as much as he was present during his senior year.
Lane said he's had serious medical issues the past five years, but his condition intensified roughly a year ago when doctors discovered he had lead poisoning.
He was experiencing major side pains, nausea and vomiting, and his liver levels were high.
"I was just really sick daily," Lane recalled. "Oftentimes, I wouldn't make it through a day of school."
At one point, Lane's lead levels were so high that he was rushed to Children's Mercy in Kansas City, Mo.
Doctors determined through X-rays that Lane had several lead pellets in his stomach. After searching Lane's house, the culprit was found - pellets inside a stress ball.
Lane has been a sleepwalker since he was a child. Lane and his doctors theorized he bit into the stress ball, which was near his bed, during a sleepwalking episode. The stuffing of the stress ball contained the lead.
It's common for lead poisoning to diminish IQ count and cause mental problems, but Lane said he didn't experience any of those adverse side effects.
"Amazingly my brain held up to the high lead levels," Lane said.
The lead poisoning episode, however, was just the start of frequent hospital trips for Lane.
His elevated liver levels originally were linked to the lead, he said. Doctors later determined Lane had autoimmune liver disease, a condition in which the body repeatedly will attack the liver until the organ is no more.
"I've been in and out of KU Med for the last couple months," Lane said.
The mortality rate for people who have the disease, if untreated, is 40 percent after six months, 50 percent after three years and 90 percent for 10 years.
A treatment option would be a live donor transplant, in which someone would give Lane a part of his liver.
"There's a couple people picked out, but it's a lot of risk for someone else prolonging something that is inevitable," Lane said.
Documenting his experiences
As a way to relieve the stress of his medical issues, Lane started writing about his ordeals.
He's been in contact with a couple of small publishing companies about transforming his story into a book.
Lane said the first half of his book basically is finished and includes all that he's been through during the past year.
The second half will be written this summer and will focus on trips he's looking to take.
Lane plans to take friends with him next month on a road trip to the West Coast. The trip to California is planned to be a straight shot, while the return trip will include meandering either north or south to sightsee on the way back to Kansas.
And in July, Lane is eyeing a backpacking trip in Canada. Although he hasn't decided exactly where he'll backpack, he said. "Ontario is a nice place." He said he picked Canada because he wanted to see something new.
A dedicated student
Despite all of his illnesses, Lane still maintained strong grades throughout high school. Lane wasn't one of 19 THS graduates honored for maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average throughout high school, but he was oh so close - he received a lone B in Spanish II this school year.
And through all the tribulations, Lane was able to help Tonganoxie's esteemed debate and forensics programs win state titles in both areas this school year.
"I really enjoy debate, so winning that, it was well worth it," Lane said.
Lane did not let his illness slow him down.
About two months ago, a day after Lane was released from the hospital on one occasion, he turned around and took first place at a national qualifying tournament in the Lincoln-Douglas debate category.
On Thursday he'll be heading to Wisconsin with his teammates for that national tournament.
THS debate and forensics coach Steve Harrell said Lane's will was what has pulled him through.
"His physical side, it's just been one episode after another, and that's been unfortunate," Harrell said. "But from my perspective, I've never seen a kid who willed himself to get things done and gut things out."
Lane said, if his health allows, he has lined up enrollment at Kansas University.
"If I have a chance, I'll probably major in computer engineering," Lane said.
In the meantime, he has his sights set on traveling this summer as he works toward becoming a published author.
"I just feel like I need to live life," Lane said. "I haven't been a person to let sickness drag me down."