Special graduation ceremony held for ?real fighter'

By Trina Trice

Graduation means a lot more to LaQuinton Shenard Davis than it does for most people.

Davis, who has had neurofibromatosis 2, or NF2, for two years, was wheeled through a special graduation ceremony organized by teachers from M.D. Roberts Middle School. Davis was a student at the school until his illness required him to stay at home.

NF2 is a rare genetically inherited form of cancer characterized by the growth of multiple tumors on the nerves of the brain and spine, and can affect hearing.

NF2 affects about 1 in 40,000 people worldwide.

The disease is terminal.

Several teachers and staff from Roberts Middle School gathered in Davis' home in Jonesboro, some dressed in graduation caps and gowns to add to the ceremonial atmosphere.

Teachers made presentations and presented Davis with a gift certificate and cash worth $85.

"I felt that it was important that he know that this is a point of achievement for him," said Liz Turner, special education consultative teacher. "He's a real fighter, I wanted to make leaving middle school special for him. He may not make it to real graduation."

Teacher Georgette Keith remembers having Davis in her sixth grade class.

"When he came as a scared sixth-grader, one of the things he did was write," she said.

As part of her graduation presentation, Keith read an essay Davis wrote titled "If I Won a $1 Million."

"I would get a house for my family, then we would be living large," Davis wrote in his essay.

Following the graduation Keith said, "Unfortunately one of the things I remember is how sick he got later that year. I think it was sad for him to not be able to come to school. But he's kept it up, the spirit, the spunk. When he could come to school he still smiled, he'd still speak, even when he no longer could. The mother is a strong one. Lots of prayers need to go out to her."

As teachers and family clapped in Davis' honor at his graduation, Davis garnered the strength to smile and wave.

The way Davis' mother Selethia Sheeley found out about his illness was subtle, at best.

Davis went home early from school one day because he didn't feel well, Turner said.

Sheeley, who has two other children, said Davis was able to go to school a couple of months until the tumor growth became too painful.

"He's steadily declined since then," Turner said. "He's had six surgeries. Doctors have been removing tumors from his nerves."

Since doctors diagnosed Davis' illness, Turner has worked with him to continue his education, as has Barbara Haworth, the homebound teacher who has worked regularly with Davis.

In his studies, Davis excelled in math.

"For Nard's curriculum, I make conversation with him as far as what's going on in the world or in the community. I write these things on the chalk board."

Later Haworth asks Davis questions to which he answers by pointing at appropriate phrases on the chalkboard, she said.

Over time Davis' mental abilities have been affected negatively by NF2, Haworth said.

"At one time he was having some therapy or occupational therapy," she said. "He's in a lot of pain and he takes a lot of pain medication. The physical therapist can no longer touch him."

The length that Davis will live is unknown, according to Sheeley, who said "It's all up to the tumors."

Plans are being made to continue Davis' education, though.

He'll start high school at the beginning of the 2003-2004 school year.

"He's going to learn whatever he wants to learn," Turner said. "We won't worry about building skill development. His study will be built around his interests n wrestling and chocolate cookie ice cream. There will be a lot of cognitive stimulation. As long as he's using his mind, then that gives him a lot of will and a lot of strength."