Rigby grads persevere academically through medical challenges

Jonah Neville was diagnosed with Lyme disease last year. For Neville, an optimistic attitude has changed his perspective on life. When having a rough day, the best therapy was sitting with friends and talking. “It helped me have enjoyment in life,” he said. “It’s all about living a normal life.” Cassidy Davies was diagnosed with exotropia, an eye condition that makes focusing and reading very difficult. For her, seminary became a place where she could relax and focus on what is really important in life. “Seminary is just a get-away place for me,” Davies said. “It’s always helped if I had a hard test or am struggling with something in school.”

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth of eight articles previewing soon-to-be graduates from the Post Register’s coverage area.

Rigby High School will graduate 244 students today at its 2 p.m. commencement ceremony at Brigham Young-University-Idaho. The following are profiles of two graduating seniors handpicked by school administrators.

Jonah Neville

Dirt biking, motocross and tennis — Jonah Neville loves high-intensity, outdoor sports, but these days, he’s forced to take things easy.

Just last year, the active 18-year-old was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

The bacterial illness is spread through tick bites and can be treated with antibiotics if caught early on. That wasn’t the case for Neville. He unknowingly picked up the disease around age 10, his family thinks, and remained mostly symptom-free for years. (Around age 10, Neville got a bulls-eye ring rash — characteristic of the disease in the early local infection stage.)

Over time, as the disease remained undiagnosed and progressed, it began to make him feel tired, sick to his stomach, and unable to remember things at school.

“It really attacked every aspect of his body — his muscles, nerves, tissues, brain nerves and intestinal tract,” Neville’s mother Katherine said.

So, Neville went through a year of diagnostics in which doctors were unable to figure out what was wrong. Finally, blood work came back and he tested positive for Lyme.

“The diagnosis was like, ‘oh great, now we can finally start on the right path,’” Neville said.

Persevering ultimately paid off for Neville. Despite missing an estimated 25 days of school this trimester, Neville said he’s still managed high grades. And despite being unable to participate in tennis at Rigby this year, he tries to remain optimistic.

“At times (early on) I was like ‘I’d rather be dead, you know?’” he said. “Because it hurt so bad … but now, I really try to keep my attitude positive and keep it up, so that I don’t get down.”

Neville’s been undergoing treatment since March.

“He’s just taking it a day at a time,” Rigby High School IEN Facilitator Diana Cooley said. “And he has a really great attitude — he’s just like ‘I’m going to beat it, it’s not going to get me down.’ He’s an inspiration and I think he’ll be able to cope with anything down the road.”

Next year, Neville is attending BYU-Idaho to earn his general studies credits while continuing treatment. Eventually, he’d like to study engineering at Utah State University.

Lyme disease remains fairly rare in the West; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 percent of all cases in 2012 were reported in 13 primarily eastern states.

Neville said he thinks Lyme disease largely remains undiagnosed and misdiagnosed.

“Lyme disease is a super hard thing to diagnose,” he said. “It imitates so many things. … I think a lot of people have it — especially in Idaho and Utah — and they’re going undiagnosed, getting treatment for something else. If you’re having joint aches, muscle aches, stomach problems, or feeling tired — I’d say, go get checked for it.”

Cassidy Davies

Test-taking, reading the newspaper and focusing on small-text type — easy enough tasks for most are hurdles that have made school for Cassidy Davies more challenging.

The 18-year-old has exotropia — a condition in which her eyes deviate outward and have trouble focusing.

“For example, when I’m reading, I’ll see the sentence and it becomes two sentences,” Davies said. “So certain things have always been a huge struggle for me.”

The condition means Davies can take twice as long as the rest of her classmates to complete a test. Or, when it comes time to read a chapter in class, she’ll often finish well behind others. Yet it’s hardly gotten her down. Since finding out about her condition two years ago, Davies continually looks for ways to make it more manageable. Ultimately, she thinks it has made her a stronger person.

“Grades have always been very important to me and so has trying my best,” she said. “Having this condition can be very hard, but it’s taught me how much I need to try not to give up. I think it’s helped me out a lot as a person.”

Rigby English teacher Esther Henry says at times Davies becomes frustrated, but she said her positive attitude and the fact that she vocalized her condition up front, helped out.

“She let me know about the problem before I was even notified by the counseling office,” Henry said. “At times I could see she’d be getting a little frustrated, but she always seemed to have a good attitude — and she’d come talk to me if there was a problem and we could get it handled for her … that really helped.”

Davies is attending BYU-Idaho next year where she’ll study to become an occupational therapist assistant. She advises others going through hardships to look at it as a blessing rather than a burden.

“This has taught me how to never give up,” she said. “Although things are hard for me, I can still do the same things as a person who can read easily. I think it’s important to have trials to overcome — it helps you to become stronger, too.”