Inspirational Grad Shana Thorpe

Paul Schaumburg, Community Relations Director, Graves County Schools

Inspirational Grad Shana Thorpe | Graves County High School, graduation, Shana Thorpe, chronic granulomatous disease

Shana Thorpe- Class of GCHS 2011

(Mayfield, KY May 19, 2011) - Shana Thorpe will join 293 fellow members of the Class of 2011 when they receive their diplomas at Graves County High School Friday evening, May 20. She has faced various illnesses throughout her life and finally was diagnosed in the ninth grade with chronic granulomatous disease. Wikipedia defines it as a hereditary disease that affects the immune system. It is extremely rare. Only about 1 in 200,000 people in the United States has been diagnosed with it and only about 20 new cases are diagnosed each year.

She postponed bone marrow surgery for four years and until graduation because she wanted her high school years to be as normal and enjoyable as possible. During that time, she has become an inspiration to fellow students and teachers. Her academy principal, Jennifer Tilford, said, “If everyone had the heart and passion of Shana Thorpe, this world would be the way that it should be and was meant to be.”

High school graduation is a time when the average American teenager realizes he or she has taken the daily routine of life for granted and that’s about to change. One Graves County High School student’s daily routine has been like few others’. She’s faced various illnesses throughout her young life. She learned of her doctors’ diagnosis of a serious disease in her freshman year. And, she has fought that disease every day since in order to enjoy her high school experience. Now, while her friends make college plans for the fall, she faces a long summer of surgery and recovery.

Shana Thorpe appears to be the picture of health. The petite, blue-eyed, curly-haired blonde stands just an inch under five feet. She’s outgoing, positive, and hospitable. Her ever-present, broad smile conveys warmth from within and a desire to reach out to others. Her endlessly upbeat demeanor is even more remarkable, considering the story her positive attitude doesn’t tell and that she discusses rarely.

“I’ve been sick all my life,” she explained little more than 48 hours before graduation. “My symptoms were that I was having fever constantly as a little girl. Every time I went to the hospital, the doctors would say I had pneumonia. They said I had it eight times a year, even before I went to school!”

She continued, “Then, I got really sick in ninth grade and my ankles started swelling. My mom (Melody Howard) knew something was wrong. So, they sent me to Kosair’s Children’s Hospital in Louisville. I was there for four months. They kept running different tests. They said they found a mass in my liver. So, I had to take CAT scans and MRIs. They told me it could be cancer. So, I was upset about that. Then, they came back a couple of days later and said they didn’t find any cancer cells. Then they said they thought it was hemangiona, which is a bundle of blood vessels in my liver. They sent me to Cincinnati, Ohio, because they had experts at the hospital there. They knew what they were looking at, so it didn’t take long there. They did a laparoscopic surgery where they drained some fluid from my liver. It came back as chronic granulomatous disease.”

Wikipedia defines it as “a diverse group of hereditary diseases in which certain cells of the immune system have difficulty forming the reactive oxygen compounds used to kill certain ingested pathogens. This leads to the formation of granulomata in many organs. CGD affects about 1 in 200,000 people in the United States, with about 20 new cases diagnosed each year.”

“I’ve known I’ve had it ever since ninth grade,” Thorpe said.  “My dad passed away around that same time and that made things hard, too. The doctors have me on antibiotics. I take eight pills a day and will be on them for the rest of my life. But even so, I get random infections. I had surgery earlier this school year due to a lymph node problem.”

The rareness of her disease and the four years since diagnosis have led up to the point of this summer’s surgery.  “I don’t absolutely have to have a bone marrow transplant, but if I say I don’t want one now, I’ll probably never get one,” she pointed out.  “They say that kids who have my disease don’t live past 10 years old. They were surprised with me coming to them in my mid-teens and doing as well as I am. I leave in June for my transplant because I told them I wanted to wait until I graduated.”

So, for the past four years, she’s done her best to enjoy high school life and all that goes with it. “I was involved in co-ed competition cheerleading, but had to quit when I was diagnosed. In 12th grade I became a member of the all-girl cheerleaders. I’ve participated in a lot of clubs like FBLA, pep club, Young Democrats, and a lot of things like that. I’ve been in some plays in drama class. I like acting.  I go to New Hope Baptist Church. I go to everything. I do things like a normal person. I really push myself to do what other people do. I want to hang out with my friends every day. I work at Sonic Drive-In. I worked there before and now I’m going back to work there again a couple of days a week. That’s enough. Some days I am so tired I have to go to bed as soon as I get home.”

“Shana is a fine young lady. I enjoy her sense of humor and positive outlook,” said her drama teacher, LaVerne Waldrop. “She has accepted her condition but never gives in. Shana never lets others know what she is enduring. Instead, she finds ways to tend to the needs of those around her.  She was in my classes for quite a while before I knew what she would be facing in her future.”

“Mrs. Waldrop’s class always made me cards when I’ve been out sick,” Thorpe said with a smile. “She and a couple of other teachers, Liz Merrick and Tessa Powell, always check on me and ask me how I’m doing. Donna Gream, the PAC (Performing Arts Center) director, calls me ‘Little Bit.’ She’s always there when I need her. She really cares about me and everything I’m going through. She always makes me laugh and I love to laugh.

I talk to some of my friends about it. But mostly, I don’t talk about it. The whole school pretty much knows. They don’t ask me about it much. I think they know I don’t really want to talk about it until it comes. I guess I think that just because I have a disease doesn’t mean I don’t want to hang out with my friends. I wanted to wait until I graduated because I’ll never have the opportunity to be in high school again. I didn’t want to waste my whole high school experience because of being in the hospital. Whenever I’ve been in the hospital, I wonder about what I’m missing with my friends.”

“Shana is so much in a tiny little package!” said Destiny Woodfork, her friend and fellow member of the Class of 2011. “She’s so outgoing. She’ll walk up to a random person and talk to them. Everybody loves her. She’s so genuine and kind-hearted. For her to go through all of this and do everything she does like working, going to school and graduating, she’s amazing. I envy her!”

“She’s the strongest person I know,” added another friend and fellow senior, Heath Howard. “Every goal she’s ever set, she’s met – cheerleading, finishing classes, participating in class activities. She has been involved in everything she can be.” 

“I thought that after I graduated I could handle that situation better and not feel like I’ve missed out on what’s going on at school,” Thorpe said. “So, I leave in June and I have to be hospitalized for a period of time before I start chemotherapy. I can’t have any infections going into it. I’m going to the same hospital in Cincinnati where I was diagnosed. I have to take 12 days of chemo. Then, I have my bone marrow transplant and I have to stay for a couple of months after the surgery in the hospital and then another 100 days after that at the Ronald McDonald House.”

“Shana’s on our prayer list at church, Mayfield First Church of the Nazarene on West Broadway,” said Gream, the PAC director. “I have started taking up money for her family, as it can get very expensive away from home. If anyone is interested in donating money of any amount for Shana’s trip to the Cincinnati hospital, please contact me, Donna Gream, at (270) 970-0121 or call the church at (270) 247-7328. “

“Mrs. Gream and I have made plans to visit her in June. I know she will be the life of the hospital!” said Waldrop, her drama teacher. “I love her and will always keep in touch. I look forward to what she accomplishes in the next few years.”

“Her bubbly personality and lack of negativity amaze me!” said Jennifer Tilford, principal of the GCHS academy in which Thorpe has taken most of her high school classes. “Shana has been a blessing to me this year in numerous ways and was recently chosen as a ‘Shining Star’ in the Fine Arts/Health Services Academy! If everyone had the heart and passion of Shana Thorpe, this world would be the way that it should be and was meant to be.”

Graves County Schools’ Performing Arts Center director Donna Gream is collecting monetary donations for Shana Thorpe and her family during their extended stay for Shana’s surgery and recovery this summer in Cincinnati, Ohio. To donate, phone Gream at (270) 970-0121 or her church, Mayfield First Church of the Nazarene, at (270) 247-7328.