Rutland student battles through brain tumor, graduates on time

Rutland student battles through brain tumor, graduates on time

jmink@macon.comMay 17, 2014 

Quanisha Rutherford barely remembers the worst time of her life.

She can only vaguely recall the severe headaches, the lengthy hospital stays, the 10 surgeries and the brutal recovery period immediately afterward.

But she remembers the aftermath. She’s still living it.

A brain tumor survivor, the Rutland High School senior is no stranger to beating the odds. Now, after relearning how to walk and talk, the scholar and athlete is beating the odds again as she graduates with her class.

“Prayer,” the 17-year-old said when asked how she not only conquered a serious illness, but caught up with her class. “That’s all it takes.”

It was Christmas Eve 2011 when Quanisha and her parents realized something was seriously wrong. Until then, everything had been going right for Quanisha. An honor roll student who was already taking Advanced Placement classes as a sophomore, she also played basketball and ran track.

But, a few weeks before winter break, Quanisha had developed headaches. She had seen doctors, who told her she had a bad sinus infection. But, as her family wrapped last-minute Christmas gifts, Quanisha began stumbling and crying uncontrollably.

That’s when her parents took her to the hospital.

Her first surgery happened almost immediately, when a doctor drilled a hole in Quanisha’s head to relieve some of the pressure. Shortly afterward, her parents were informed that Quanisha had a noncancerous brain tumor.

“You just don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been through it,” Quanisha’s mother, Kayla Rutherford, said.

After a second surgery, Quanisha was sent to a rehabilitation facility, where she developed an infection that was so severe it blinded Quanisha in one eye. After enduring two additional surgeries, Quanisha soon developed a type of blood clot in her legs from being in a bed for so long, her mother said.

While staying in Atlanta’s Ronald McDonald House for parents of hospitalized children, Quanisha’s parents got another call. Quanisha’s cerebral shunt had malfunctioned -- she needed another surgery.

“It’s been painful for my family,” Quanisha said, “just painful.”

In total, Quanisha underwent 10 surgeries, but perhaps the most difficult part of the journey was yet to come. The brain tumor, along with the surgeries and medication, not only partially blinded Quanisha, it affected her memory.

“I had to learn how to walk, how to feed myself again,” she said. “Just everyday basic living.”

While her long-term memory revived, Quanisha still struggles with her short-term memory. She knew that class work would be a challenge, and she already had missed a semester of school. But she was determined to make it up.

“I needed to be around people my age, and I wanted to have the (high school) experience,” she said.

But she didn’t stop there. Quanisha decided to rejoin the track team.

She had been running since the sixth grade, and she was determined to hit the track again. It hasn’t been easy, “but I try,” she said.

Shannon McBrair, a math teacher at Rutland High School, was Quanisha’s teacher in middle school. Quanisha was in one of McBrair’s accelerated classes, and she remembers Quanisha as a “phenomenal” student and a top athlete. When Quanisha returned to school after her illness, McBrair initially did not recognize her due to the physical toll of her ordeal.

“Just to know what she’s been through and to see what she’s pulled herself out of and to be able to graduate, it’s mind-blowing,” McBrair said. “She had the right to use it as an excuse, but not once did she.”

As she graduates, Quanisha isn’t yet sure what the future holds, but she knows that she can accomplish anything, she said.

And after watching her beat the odds, her teachers agree.

“To be at her graduation and to see her go across the stage,” McBrair said, “that’s the exclamation mark on the entire story.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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