Appleton West's Isaiah Harmison feeling better after Cushing's Disease scare

Appleton West's Isaiah Harmison feeling better after Cushing's Disease scare

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Appleton West's Isaiah Harmison feeling better after Cushing's Disease scare

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Isaiah Harmison knew he had to go fishing.

He sat behind his computer, dialed up Google, and strung the bait.

“Fatigue” would be followed by a tap of the “enter” key. Answers would follow, but none seemed appropriate. So he added more bait.

“Fatigue” and “weight gain” and “round face” would be strung together followed by another tap of the “enter” key. Information would fill the screen. He was getting closer. He just knew it.

“He was always a step ahead of everyone,” said Isaiah’s mom, Michelle, of her son, a junior golfer and basketball player at Appleton West.

Decreasing energy and roughly 40 additional pounds sent the then-Appleton West sophomore on his expedition. He was an active kid, the kind who could run forever on a basketball court, the kind who could have been a poster child for the NFL’s Play 60 campaign, and had a mother who made sure eating right was a part of his daily ritual.

So when he started to pack on pounds, saw his blood pressure readings rise, felt increasingly fatigued and noticed a face in the mirror that began to resemble a full moon, he and Michelle headed to their doctor.

His doctor determined Harmison needed to eat better, get more exercise and possibly was a candidate for pre-diabetes.

“We just looked at each other and said, ‘No, this is not right,’ ” said Michelle. “So we took it into our own hands.”

While Michelle contacted a family friend who was a physician, who in turn contacted an endocrinologist, Harmison kept trying to unlock the mystery via his computer.

“When I typed in high blood pressure, fatigue and rounder face, it completely fit what I was feeling,” he said. “I thought this has to be it. It made a ton of sense.”

At nearly the same time Harmison discovered Cushing’s Disease, Michelle got a return phone call from the family friend whose source was coming up with the same answer.

The next step was a trip to Children’s Hospital where, after a series of tests, the diagnosis was confirmed.

Cushing’s is a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure of the body’s tissues to high levels of the hormone cortisol. That is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, which is located in the brain.

“I didn’t want it to be (Cushing’s),” said Harmison. “It required surgery, which is the one thing I did not want.”

On March 27, 2012, Harmison underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor.

“I was actually not nervous at all,” said Harmison. “I know it sounds kind of weird, but I was happy the day of the surgery. It was a new turning point. It had been a long two years.

“I really wanted to get back to normal.”

What was normal for Harmison also involved an interest in medicine. He got his operating physician to explain everything that would happen, explain the terminology and got him to take a tour of the operating room to learn how and what equipment would be used.

“It was a bad situation that turned out to be a good experience,” said Harmison, who will be taking a medical mentoring class this summer.

For mom, the process was far more excruciating.

“You just never know,” said Michelle. “It could have been a day where the doctor’s hands were shaky. They have to do a test on the tumor and you don’t know if it’s going to be benign or cancerous. You just don’t know.”

Hours after the surgery and after meeting with the doctor, the news wasn’t completely comforting.

“He said, ‘We don’t know what we got, so we took a little bit extra besides the tumor to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind,’ ” said Michelle.

“So what did they take? You just have to put your faith in the doctor and in God.”

Since the surgery, Harmison has gone in for regular checkups every six months. After June, checkups will be annually. All of his symptoms have disappeared, he has grown 2½ inches since September, he returned to the basketball team this winter and to the golf team this spring, where he once again earned honorable mention all-Fox Valley Association honors, just as he did as a freshman.

“I’ve noticed like I’ve felt like I did before for everything except basketball and golf,” said Harmison. “My games feel a little different and I kind of have to learn my skills back.

“I’m still kind of searching (for his golf swing). It’s been a rough year for me. But I’m hoping to do well at the right time. My main goal is to get to state, which has been my goal since my freshman year.”

He took an important first step toward that goal on Monday when he shot a four-over-par 76 to tie for third at the WIAA Division 1 Waupaca Regional at Foxfire Golf Course in Waupaca. That enabled him to advance to Tuesday’s sectional at Ledgeview Golf Course in De Pere.

Michelle acknowledges it was difficult to say no to their family doctor and chart their own course. But because she did, all of her son’s dreams remain within reach.

“You really have to credit his mom, who saw the symptoms,” said Carolyn Barnett-Howe, Harmison’s swing coach. “Good for his mom to be so proactive and say, ‘No, I know my son.’ And insist on those tests being done. She really advocated for her son.”

And the son, despite his own hard-earned discoveries on this journey, knows that better than anyone.

“My mom was constantly on the phone, calling doctors, asking what tests we needed to do and said let’s get this rolling fast,” Harmison said. “I thank her a lot for that. If she was not there, it would have been really tough for me to get through these things.”

— Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232, or mwoods@postcrescent.com; On Twitter @PCMikeW

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