Athlete and APU student Juwan Perkins has faced hardships and trials but continues to live his life with determination and perseverance.
Juwan Perkins is a track and field sprinter studying criminal justice at APU. Perkins’ story hasn’t been heard or told in depth by anyone besides his family. It is a story only one in every 3,000 babies must write as their own: being born with a diaphragmatic hernia. However, his condition is not the theme of his story; it is his resilience, perseverance and determination to beat the odds.
A diaphragmatic hernia is “classified as a birth defect where there is a hole in the diaphragm.”
According to the CDC, “organs in the abdomen can move through the hole in the diaphragm and upwards into a baby’s chest.” Perkins’ experience was no different. His condition caused harm to one of his lungs, leaving the doctor with no choice but to operate.
On May 21, 2001, Juwan Perkins’ mother, Tina Perkins, gave birth at the Bethesda, Maryland Naval Base to her first and only son. The birth was supposed to be a smooth process. It was everything but easy. When Juwan came into the world he made one sound and that was it. Silence. Everyone looked around the room with the expectation of a cry, but to their dismay, Juwan could not breathe. He was rushed to Georgetown University Hospital where the doctors found out he had a diaphragmatic hernia and needed surgery. He would not be able to survive the surgery on his own, so he was placed on an ECMO machine.
According to UCSF Health, An Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine is also known as extracorporeal life support. The goal of this machine is similar to “the heart-lung by-pass machine used in open-heart surgery. It pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.”
With the ECMO machine,Perkins’ body became strong enough to survive surgery; he would endure a total of eight surgeries leaving marks on and in his body to last a lifetime. Some of these lasting effects include a large surgical scar across his stomach and neck and permanent gashes in his head. Additionally, where we have a diaphragm, he has a piece of GORE DUALMESH Biomaterial. According to Gore & Associates, Inc, “GORE DUALMESH Biomaterial is designed to encourage growth of host tissue and minimize tissue attachment in hernias.”
Perkins spent a year in the hospital and six years in and out of the hospital afterwards. This caused Perkins to miss preschool and kindergarten, leaving him two grades behind children his age. For the first two years of hospital care, Perkins survived with a feeding tube and oxygen tank. Doctors told his mother that he wouldn’t be able to get through life without a feeding tube and suggested he get a feeding tube backpack since he couldn’t eat on his own. He would have to push a button to eat, and the food would come from the backpack directly into his stomach. However, being the God-fearing woman she is, Tina Perkins had a strong conviction that Juwan would soon be able to eat on his own.
As Perkins grew older, he soon began to break those unimaginable barriers put on him as a toddler. His first feat was breathing without the assistance of an oxygen tank. He was then able to learn how to eat without a feeding tube and was able to get rid of it as a toddler. Doctors said that Perkins would forever need assistance and wouldn’t even be able to participate in any sports. However, growing up, Perkins was able to play little league football and baseball. It was in middle and high school where he grew a love for playing soccer and discovered his love for track and field.
“At that time in my life, I wasn’t truly aware of what was going on. I was a baby and thinking back to everything seems to be a blur to me,” said Perkins. “However, what helps me remember my story are the two scars left on my body. Those scars push me everyday to continue to go after what others told me I couldn’t do because without those scars, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Perkins never looked back and hasn’t needed any assistance since he was a toddler. He is a true representation of what it means to not let anything hinder you from achieving your goals.
Currently, Perkins is a criminal justice major at APU with goals to achieve in soccer and track. He is a Golden State Warriors fan who is a true warrior in his everyday life. His story is motivation to others and has inspired a multitude of people around him. His name is Juwan Perkins, and he is my brother. This is the story of how survival became a way of life.