All I can remember is how much my son always wanted to go to college.
We told Austin he could do anything. He might have to work much harder than others, but he could do anything. Little did we know just how hard and how much work our son would have to go through.
Austin was Diagnosed with E-Coil Bacterial Meningitis at 7 days old, which is a infection surrounding the brain and spinal cord, he was in the hospital for a month. At his 8 week check up Austin was diagnosed with having Hydrocephalus, (water on the brain) the infection had scared his brain so bad the water could not flow correctly, so a neurosurgeon had to place a shunt. This shunt will be with him the rest of his life and there are many complications with shunts.
We told Austin from a very young age about his shunt and his condition. Austin knew he might have to have more operations. It is just the way it is when you have extra pluming; sometimes it needs to be fixed. After Austin’s original brain surgery, at 2 1/2 months old, he was very weak, his right side did not work well, and his neurologist said he had mild Cerebral Palsy.
At 4 months old Austin started in an early intervention and therapy program. He could not roll over, he could barely hold his head up, but he tried so very hard. We noticed he looked like and old man trying to listen to us, his left ear pointed up to us, so we had his hearing checked, who confirmed he was deaf in his right ear.
Austin’s speech was hard to understand, and at times he would look up and know what he was saying, but to us it was indistinguishable garbled words. When he spoke it came slow but as he got older it got much better. We could see his determination in his eyes.
Austin was place from special education into regular school at kindergarten, he was very smart. He ran different, he took longer to speak then others, and he had a hard time with his hands and writing, but he did well and just loved being in school.
In 4th grade he was placed into G.A.T.E a gifted and talented education program, that is where we all started noticing how Austin’s differences were causing him problems. Austin had to work hard to keep up and his speech and writing problems slowed him down. He would talk in what the teacher described as cocktail conversation. He could read and comprehended at high school level, yet Austin had parts of his brain that just did not work.
In 5th grade Austin became a kid both in G.A.T.E. and in special education, he loved G.A.T.E class. He especially loved being in plays. Austin could sing like a bird, he was a great actor, and he had a memory like a steel trap.
Kids at this age also knew something was different with Austin some were downright mean. It got much worse as the years went on.
The summer going into 6th grade Austin needed a revision a possible replacement on his shunt. When the Neurosurgeon went in all Austin needed was to lengthen the tube from his head to his belly.
In 7th grade Austin was being babysat by a friend while my husband and I took in a movie, when we returned home our friend asked if Austin always had a hard time answering questions. I went to Austin and his eyes were off balanced and he could not answer much of anything. At the Emergency Room the head CT showed Austin’s shunt had the tube pulled out and Austin was going to need a new shunt. Austin was admitted, they took out his old shunt, and placed a new shunt. The new shunt did not work, something was wrong with the valve, so they placed another shunt in.
Austin was very sick, he spent 30 days in the hospital and had external brain drains, they burred another hole to place a shunt in another area to see if it would work, then they placed a programmable shunt in the new area, Austin came out of the operations with bad tics, his muscles would pop and spasm, recovery was slow.
Austin’s memory was not good, his walking and balance was off and he had little energy. Austin worked hard to do all his school work, his make up work, and continued to go to school. He knew if he wanted to stay on the college track he had to complete Algebra. College is all Austin wanted: he wanted to become a doctor. So Austin worked very hard, the demands were more than any kid going through so much should have ever have had to go through.
Austin then formed cysts in his brain they had to fenestrate this cysts, the fenestration did not take and Austin had many complications, he was regressing and his short term and working memory were shot. As Austin said he “couldn’t remember what he forgot”.
Austin had a terrible seizure in which the doctors put him into a drug induced coma. The neurosurgeons had to place an additional second shunt into Austin’s cyst due to his brain now was non-communicative. Two parts of his brain were being drained separately. In all Austin had 2 shunts, 36 ER visits, one Airlifted helicopter emergency, one bowel adhesion operation plus, he lost so much time in school, it was terrible. Despite all that, Austin was still determined to go to school to make it all up, to graduate with his class, and to go to college.
In 10th grade Austin stopped having surgeries. Austin was left with bad memory loss, tics, slowness, no energy, if stressed, Austin would lay down, then his head would bob to the side sometimes he would go mute, it must be his shunts we thought, he saw many top neurosurgeons for 2nd opinions, which took away from his school, then he started having seizures, then next came episodes of periodically going paralyzed from the waist down, it was terrible to watch, but only happened on occasion, his memory got worse, he was having a very hard time in school, yet he worked hard kept himself in school.
Austin Graduated High School with his class, yet he missed being able to go to a four year college by 10 credits, he had been so sick and had so many medicines to adjust to, he just missed it.
Austin is now going to Junior College, the day we moved him to college he had an appointment with the neurologist to check his seizure medications. and get a report after he had a 4 day ambulatory EEG, on that day Austin was diagnosed with still having seizures and a movement disorder most likely Dopamine Responsive Dystonia, I’m not so sure it is not some type of Parkinson’s, caused by all the surgeries and the meningitis The full diagnose is still pending, the neurologist placed Austin on an L-dopa medicine and it has worked very well, he has not gone paralyzed since he started this medicine.
On the drive to Austin’s new apartment next to his college, I asked Austin how he felt about this new diagnose, he in his always determined way he said,” I am no different today then I was yesterday, all I want to do is go to college”.
And that is exactly what he did. Austin Hitchin is attending Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa,CA. He loves to play guitar, write music, sing, and act in local theater. Austin will be pursuing a certificate in Neurodiagnostic Technology and eventually plans to become a neurologist.
By Deborah Hitchin
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.