By Jeff Nations
Tyler Quinn was just like anybody else.
Following his graduation from Sherando High School in 2012, Quinn plotted the usual path to future success -- a college education, a spot on the school's baseball team so he could keep playing at least a little while longer.
At first, all went according to plan. Quinn enrolled at Johnson University, a small school in Knoxville, Tenn., with the idea of becoming a minister. He practiced with the baseball team in the fall, getting ready to challenge for time as a first baseman/designated hitter and pitcher in the spring. Quinn even had his summer planned out -- a two-month internship to work with a ministry in the African nation of Burkina Faso.
"I had gotten all my shots, my passport, visa -- everything I needed to go abroad," Quinn said during a recent phone interview.
Quinn never made that trip. Instead, he's spent the better part of the past year in and out of hospitals after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Quinn recently returned home after spending the previous three months in Baltimore in an apartment across the street from The Johns Hopkins Hospital following a half-match bone marrow transplant.
The first sign of trouble for Quinn came in the form of an ear infection last February, just as he was gearing up for baseball season. Quinn saw his doctor, got medicine to take care of that problem and tried to get back on track. Severe headaches came next, bad enough to affect his vision. Quinn was diagnosed with migraines, but more symptoms including severe nausea and vomiting were soon to follow. His vision continued to deteriorate, and one day Quinn's calf muscles simply stopped working.
Still, Quinn's doctors could find nothing seriously wrong.
"My blood, when they would take it at the hospital, looked perfect," Quinn said. "They had no idea what it was."
Finally, Quinn got his answer after undergoing a lumbar puncture to remove a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. He got the news as he headed home from college after taking spring final exams. Quinn's mother, Brenda, had to drive due to Tyler's issues with vision and dizziness. She got the news first over the phone during a stop at Dairy Queen on the trip home.
"She had this shocked, absolutely stunned look on her face," Quinn said. "Honestly, with me, it was more of a curiosity of what was about to happen. I was anxious to know about it, just see what the deal was. Cancer is so prevalent today. Everyone seems to know someone who's had cancer."
That was last May, and Quinn soon began chemotherapy and radiation treatment at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Quinn developed several complications resulting from that treatment, and in January moved to Johns Hopkins to undergo the bone-marrow transplant. His father, Richard, was his donor.
"From January 24th until Friday (March 21) I had to stay down there with one of my parents," Quinn said. "You've got to go to clinic every day for blood transfusions and lots of medicine just about every day. You need a huge amount of fluid to keep hydrated, and you have to drink lots of fluid to help make the transplant work."
Family and friends have pitched in to help with Quinn's rising medical bills. A Facebook group has been set up, "Praying for Tyler Quinn," where bracelets -- "Team TQ Colossians 3:17" -- can be purchased for $2 to provide financial support. A fund to help defray costs is online at www.gofundme.com/6wuwqs.
"We've been blown away at the amount of support we've received," Quinn said. "Our church held a fundraiser for us, and other people have given us money and been so generous with things like providing meals. It's been a real blessing."
Quinn is on the road to recovery now, but it's still a long one. He plans to return to college when he can; that's not possible right now, with his immune system so weakened and all the required immunizations wiped out by his previous cancer treatment. Quinn still wears a face mask in public to ward off infection.
Baseball won't be in the 20-year-old Quinn's plans anymore. He did see action in a few games at Johnson University before his symptoms grew too severe.
"When you're seeing double and your vision is blurred, it's kind of hard to catch a bullet to first base or hit a ball at the plate when you can't see," Quinn said. "I'm officially retired from baseball. I'm hoping to pick up some slo-pitch and hopefully keep up with the old guys."
Quinn's exposure to the medical field also has him rethinking his academic pursuits.
"Being around the hospital so much, I'm considering some sort of nursing path," Quinn said. "I still want to be able to turn that into some sort of ministry."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>