Jacob Powell was born with his bladder exposed through a deeply open abdomen, setting him on a rugged course that has included 29 surgeries and complications that have slowed his development.
But now, with help from doting doctors and nurses and home instruction with his special-education teacher, Powell, 20, is happily winding down his senior year at Kennedale High School.
“I’m just ready to graduate,” he says. That is scheduled for June 6.
But first came a surprise Friday at the school’s Awards Day, at which teachers recognize their highest-performing and most-persevering students in each grade.
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It was an easy choice for special-education English teacher Kim Brown, who taught Powell at his home in Arlington last year after another medical setback kept him out of the classroom.
“Out of all my seniors that I teach English, I chose the one who worked the hardest and improved the most,” Brown said. “He is an amazing person. As much tragedy and pain as that boy went through, he always had a smile on his face.”
The rousing cheers and applause that greeted Powell as he was summoned to the stage surprised both him and his mother.
“I was very happy and proud,” he said. “It feels really good.”
And it was a relief to his mom, Phyllis Powell.
“I was worried about that,” she said. “I was afraid that nobody knew anything about him — except he was the kid with latex allergies.”
That’s another problem. Powell developed a severe allergy that required more than just avoiding hospital gloves. He can’t be around balloons — which might seem to be a tough request for the children’s hospitals that cared for him — and has to avoid certain foods that contain proteins in latex, including avocados, chestnuts and bananas.
Not until Powell became involved in Special Olympics — and excelled at the games — did he have “any chance to make lifetime friends,” his mother said. “When he went to school, he had a nurse with him all the time.”
The constant adult presence had a chilling effect on high school bonding.
Jacob is not blood-related to his parents, but they’ve had custody of him since three months before he was born, his mom said. His biological mother had her own medical and developmental problems, and her family was concerned that she could not care for him, the Powells said.
And he needed a lot. He had his first surgery, one of multiple attempts to fully repair his urinary tract, when he was 8 hours old. “We’ve been told he would be very lucky if he lived past 21/2,” Phyllis Powell said.
He has had eight bladder ruptures over the years. The first, at age 8, was serious enough to restrict oxygen and cause brain damage that has added developmental challenge to his litany of medical problems.
“I’m proud of Jacob,” said his father, Jeff Powell. “He has gone through a lot in his lifetime; he’s had so many medical procedures going on in his life. Everything he does, he is very competitive and tries very hard to succeed.”
Now he’s looking forward to guitar lessons and Tarrant County College, where he will join some of his friends who graduated last year and are enrolled in a life-skills program.
Despite his sunny outlook, there were times he wasn’t confident that he could soldier on and complete 12 years of public school, even if it would take him two extra years.
“Yeah, plenty of times,” he said. “But I fought my way.”
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7100