Brain surgery can’t stop MHS senior from going with the class
Maricopa High School 2021 graduate Dalton Hardman is considering becoming a doctor. This search begins online with Central Arizona College where he plans to do his associate degree before deciding where to continue his education. Photo by Brian Petersheim Jr.
The high school year is tough. There is pressure to graduate, to make plans for the future, and all of the other difficulties that come with being 17. A global pandemic and life become even more strained.
The challenges Dalton Hardman faced on his way to graduation were even more daunting.
After brain surgery in January 2020 to treat seizure disorder, his treatment and recovery left him nearly a year behind his classes. Almost immediately after the operation, he was ready to resume his studies as a junior at Maricopa High School, just months before the COVID-19 outbreak.
He had to decide if he would try to catch up with his class any credits he was missing for graduation in May 2021.
He decided to give it a try and took all of his courses online.
His mother, Shanna, said the family pushed him not to pressurize himself too much, but he insisted.
“We told him he could wait and take her to summer school and graduate after his class,” Shanna said. “But he didn’t want to. He wanted to go with the class. “
“I didn’t want to be at this school anymore,” said Dalton. “It was time to move on.”
It wouldn’t be easy, especially with a last minute obstacle to overcome.
A TERRIFIC DIAGNOSIS
Dalton’s saga started when he was just 2 weeks old. His parents, Shanna and Nathan, noticed that he had jaundice and was sleeping more than normal, so they took him to the emergency room in Vernal, Utah, where they lived at the time.
The news wasn’t good – he had spinal meningitis.
“We were told to arm ourselves and that he probably wouldn’t make it through the night,” Shanna said. “And if he did, he’d probably have seizures. I was devastated.”
The infant surprised the doctors by getting through the night.
Although he looked better, Shanna and Nathan were told that clinically he was worse off. He was flown by helicopter to the Salt Lake City Elementary School Children’s Hospital.
Not only did Dalton Hardman walk his class when he graduated, he also enjoys walking on stilts in front of his house. Photo by Brian Petersheim Jr.
Dalton then developed normally until he reached fourth grade when he started complaining about his hearing. Tests confirmed significant hearing loss in both ears. And then the seizures came.
“Then he got these episodes that we didn’t know at the time were seizures,” Shanna said. “When people think of seizures, they often think of someone lying on the floor and convulsing like an epileptic seizure. His are different.
“But you can always tell by the way he looks. He’ll smack his lips a bit, and we didn’t know that was it for a long time. In the end we found
after we had taken him to a neurologist. “
Eventually Dalton was diagnosed with a complex partial seizure disorder causing focal seizures with the main symptom being “altered consciousness”.
This began an odyssey of trying to pinpoint the exact cause and location of his seizures so doctors could determine a course of treatment.
The family moved to Maricopa in 2016 and Dalton underwent a barrage of tests for several months. During inpatient surveillance, his doctors tried to induce a seizure to pinpoint the part of the brain where the seizures occurred. They fed him lots of sugar and caffeine and kept him up day and night to cause a seizure to no avail. Eventually he had a seizure, but according to Nathan it wasn’t as noticeable as the doctors wanted it to be.
“They drilled holes in his skull and ran cables straight into his brain,” he said. “He left 28 days before he had a seizure. He couldn’t even get out of bed to go to the bathroom because the electrodes were screwed directly into his skull. “
However, the tests ultimately paid off, showing that the seizures were from an unexpected part of Dalton’s brain. Doctors implanted a reactive neurostimulator (RNA) in his skull to continuously monitor brain activity and be ready to send a short electrical pulse when a seizure was detected. The device could also help pinpoint the site of activity and allow doctors to perform a potential lobectomy to numb and clear the area at the site of the seizures.
With the concern and encouragement of his family, Dalton pushed Hardman hard to complete the credits he needed to graduate from Maricopa High School in May. Photo by Brian Petersheim Jr.
“WALK A TON”
At this point, when the RNA was working in his brain, it was looking fine, according to Dalton. In January 2020, he was preparing to start school. When Dalton’s parents met with teachers to come up with a plan to catch up with him, Dalton’s parents found that many of his teachers were unaware of the extent of his medical problems.
“He gets extremely tired after a seizure,” Shanna said. “When we met with some teachers, they did not know that he had these seizure disorders. They thought he was just bored in class and at a distance. He bowed his head and fell asleep on his desk and they were annoyed with him. “
One of these teachers was the English teacher Talitha Martin, who got pretty close to Dalton.
“As his teacher, I knew he was going through a lot,” said Martin. “He was behind on his homework from all that time in the hospital and lost a lot of credits. He was on my English course this year and worked so hard to make it. “
He went to school online while a Maricopa High School teacher was visiting his house to help him catch up. The seizures continued but became less frequent as the doctors refined his RNA.
“If I were personal, I probably couldn’t have done all of the work,” said Dalton. “Not this year because I did a number of extra classes plus my regular high school classes plus night school and summer school online.”
He worked his way off his tail year round and was ready to graduate on time.
But two weeks before graduation came another obstacle.
Dalton said his advisor found that due to a typographical error, he had to take two additional electives – a fitness class and a psychology – to graduate.
“So I finished two full semester courses in 10 days on top of the other seven or eight courses I already took,” he said.
“He was up literally until 3 or 4 a.m. every night,” added his mother. “He lived on a few hours of sleep a night and did nothing – nothing – except school.”
This schedule created some tough moments for Dalton.
“It just seemed too much,” he said. “I had to start the extra classes right away, so it was really hard. I didn’t think I could do it. But I had my brother and a lot of people who said I could do it, just get through it, go a little further. “
He pushed enough.
On May 26, Dalton put on his red cap and dress and went to Ram Stadium as one of 422 graduates of the 2021 class. Against all odds, he’d earned his diploma – on time.
AN INQUIRY-FREE FUTURE?
As Dalton buckled his heavy academic burden on his back and approached his graduation, something extraordinary happened that gave hope to the whole family. His seizures had zeroed.
“Before the RNA was doing so much work and stressed out, he would have had seizures all along,” said Nathan.
In fact, Shanna said that Dr. Matthew Troester of Phoenix Children’s Hospital in mid-June revealed that Dalton had not had a seizure since November.
“He went from daily seizures to this one,” she said. “His RNA device really helps.”
His health improves and Dalton turns his attention to the future.
“I’ve been thinking about becoming a nurse for several years, in neurology or pediatrics,” he said. “But I think after that I could just work my way up to become a doctor.”
This search begins online with Central Arizona College where he plans to do his associate degree before deciding where to continue his education.
Martin, Dalton’s English teacher, said she wouldn’t bet he’d get what he set out to do.
“I always tell my students to get what they came for,” she said. “If Dalton had said, ‘I need another year,’ nobody would have blamed him … he would have had every reason to drag it out.
“He wanted to get it and he did, he went and got it. He decided early on that it was important to him to study with his class, and he got involved and made it possible. “
Lives in: The villages
Skill: Self-taught in American sign language
Future plans: Attend Central Arizona College as your first step to a career in medicine
Activities: Before the operations, I started dog cleaning and gardening businesses
Family describes him as: Wise beyond his age, compassionate, and ready to help anyone in need
This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa magazine.