When 18-year-old Jonathan Campbell hits the gym three times a week, it’s not a chore for him. It’s not a necessary routine. It’s a moment of gratitude.
At age 11, Campbell had a stroke. On Friday, he’ll graduate from Harrison High School in Cobb County with a 4.5 grade-point average, as a mentor in the school’s counseling office and a member of three different honor societies.
“He didn’t let his stroke get in the way of that — he didn’t take the easy classes,” said Tammy Campbell, his mom and a school counselor at Harrison High.
Campbell was walking outside to play PokemonGo when he collapsed. From then on, nothing was the same.
He doesn’t remember much of what happened then. He was put into a medically induced coma for two weeks and went through several surgeries. He found out later that it was an arteriovenous malformation in his brain, or AVM — a tangle of blood vessels that burst, causing bleeding in his brain. His doctors suspect he had the AVM from birth.
Campbell, his mom recalled, was prepared to fight.
“I remember the moment he squeezed my hand,” she said. “And that told me he was in there.”
One of the first things Campbell remembers clearly is the moment he realized he wouldn’t play sports again. The stroke left him with paralysis on his left side, and he still struggles with loss of function in his arm and leg.
“I was mad at God,” Campbell said. “It just really sucked.”
Campbell, a young man of strong religious faith, now feels thankful.
“I’m glad it happened,” he said. “It’s changed me. I’m more mature because of it; I don’t take things for granted.”
Campbell has been motivated to regain his strength from the beginning. He’s been through seven surgeries on his brain and limbs, and more occupational and physical therapy sessions than he can count. He missed most of his sixth grade year of school, but returned in the seventh grade and made a point to keep up with his schooling in advanced classes.
For a long time, he felt anxious and self-conscious. The normal growing pains of middle school and early high school are hard enough without having to spend every day after school or over the summer in rehab sessions, or feel excluded from hanging out with friends because they’re not sure if you can participate. But he kept going.
Last year, after a talk with his parents about his future, Campbell started going to church again and to youth group. It was there that he found a community of people to help lift him up, he said.
“My faith is the biggest part of who I am now,” Campbell said.
And he’s done with physical therapy. His left arm and leg are still weak, but Campbell prefers to work on them in the gym with his dad. He’s not on any sports teams at the school, but he can run around and catch a football with his friends, shoot a basketball, and play pickleball with his left hand.
He’s looking forward to starting college at Kennesaw State University. It’s close to home, to the community he’s built, and it has a Christian fraternity he’s eager to join.
“It feels like a fresh start,” he said. “I’m very excited about that.”