The Press Newspaper
Adam Najjar was named the 2011-12 winner of the Courageous Student Athlete Award by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and for good reason.
Each year the OHSAA asks member schools to nominate a student for the award. Najjar, who will be a senior this fall, was this year’s winner from Waite High School. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, at age 15, in November 2010.
Adam’s mother, Wendy, said her son was always a very active, healthy kid who worked hard to make the Indians’ basketball team his sophomore year.
“He was excited about switching from football to basketball that year,” Wendy said.
But then, Adam started feeling tired and had body aches. He complained of pain in his back, arms and legs, and he was having headaches, according to his mother.
“I took him to the doctor,” she said, “and a few days later we were in the emergency room and we were told he had mono. Then a couple days later he developed red spots on his lower legs and he had severe pain in his stomach, so I rushed him into the doctor’s office again. We were sent to St. Vincent Hospital for testing to see what was wrong with him.”
After about 12 hours of testing, which included an ultrasound, X-ray, CAT scan and blood tests, the family was informed that Adam had leukemia, which is a type of cancer of the blood or bone marrow.
“We were all in a state of shock,” Wendy said. “I couldn't believe what I was hearing. No one in our family has ever had leukemia.”
Wendy said Adam's only sibling, his sister Amira, 17, took the news very hard.
“Everyone in the family was heartbroken and in disbelief,” Wendy said.
Adam said he didn’t know anything about leukemia before he was diagnosed.
“Now I know that it’s a blood cancer that mainly affects children,” he said. “I was pretty sick and kind of out of it in the beginning, and I don't remember a whole lot. I wasn’t scared at all when I found out I had cancer, but I had a lot of questions.”
Doctors told the Najjar family that Adam would be in a three-year treatment program, and the first year would be very difficult. Adam had a home instructor for the rest of his sophomore year and managed to do very well.
“His spirits always remained high,” Wendy said. “He always kept his sense of humor through it all.”
Adam reached the “maintenance” part of his program just in time to return to school for his junior year at Waite. Wendy said Adam was excited to get back to playing basketball, and he went to tryouts and made the junior varsity team.
“His endurance had suffered, but his skill was good,” she said. “He never gave up, and we enjoyed going to every game. Things were going well and getting better. I watched Adam play a great game on Friday, Feb. 3, and then he didn't feel well on Feb. 5. He had a couple headaches and was unusually tired and sleepy. He stayed home from school on Feb. 6, so I could take him to his oncologist to get checked out.”
Within days, the family learned that Adam had relapsed in his central nervous system, which at the time was considered very unlikely.
“We were all just numb with fear,” Wendy said, “but Adam never gave up and he kept fighting. His doctor said this one wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but that we were going to fight it and kill it and get better.”
The next step was for Adam to get a bone marrow transplant, providing that a suitable donor could be found. It turned out that Adam’s sister, Amira, was a perfect match.
Adam underwent a bone marrow transplant on May 3, 2012 C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan. The transplant went well, and Adam spent one month in the hospital.
“We go to Michigan every week,” Wendy said. “He will be under strict care for about a year because it takes a good year to recover from a bone marrow transplant. He is doing very well, without complications.”
Wendy said Adam most likely will not be able to start his senior year in school because his immune system is still recovering. He will be able to walk with his class for graduation next June.
“He’ll continue to have his home instructor, Carol, whom we adore,” Wendy said. “He is on track and doing very well with school and his recovery.”
The Najjar’s family and friends hosted a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Adam in January 2011, shortly after he was diagnosed, and they had a yard sale fundraiser in May at Sheila and Company on Woodville Road.
“I’m feeling pretty good, just a little tired,” Adam said. “I’m very bored and tired of being in the house and not being able to go to functions and hang out with all my friends.”
Adam found out he had won the OHSAA’s Courageous Student Athlete Award a few days after returning home from transplant surgery.
“I was surprised and very honored,” he said.
Wendy added, “Words cannot express how grateful and happy I am to see him getting back to himself. He is the bravest, strongest, most courageous person I know.”
Waite High School student athlete Adam Najjar was lauded by the OHSAA for his courageous battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia. (Photo courtesy of Innovations Portrait Studio)