15-year-old Jonathan Nugent of Valparaiso, Ind., brought many of his classmates to tears with an unforgettable class presentation he gave as part of a “celebration of life.”  Jon had been diagnosed with a rare brain cancer when he was a sixth-grader, in March 2009. 

“I put together a PowerPoint that showed what I went through, how I went from being a normal kid to having chemo and radiation,” he says. Jon’s candid presentation helped his peers understand his cancer journey and answered the questions they had been afraid to ask. 

The dramatic change in their son’s personality that began in fifth grade and baffled Joe and Jo Nugent was first misdiagnosed as a behavioral disorder. Then Jon lost his speaking ability during 30-second “episodes” in which he became pale and sweaty and smelled an odd odor. The episodes were seizures. Scans revealed a tumor in the area of Jon’s brain that controls emotions and inhibitions.

His treatment through Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health included surgery, chemotherapy and 13 proton therapy sessions at the IU Health Proton Therapy Center, which he completed in July 2010. After a stroke, Jon worked hard to relearn basic skills, including walking, and to strengthen a body ravaged by a 70-pound weight loss. 

After working for nearly an entire season to be able to jog one lap around his school gym, the Washington Township High School sophomore now plays varsity soccer, JV volleyball and manages two girls’ athletic teams while earning high grades.

He also makes time to give back. With the support of his family, school administrators and community, he has raised funds for research through a host of his own creative efforts. He also raised $10,062 in this year’s Northern Indiana Ride for Kids to benefit the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. “I don’t want kids to go through what I went through,” he explains.

“Most people give more than he asks,” his mother adds. “People look out for him and look up to him. He has taken something that could have been detrimental and turned it into something good.”

Jon’s commitment to helping others doesn’t end with fundraising. This Champion plans to become a doctor-most likely, a neuro-oncologist.

 
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