Fighting the unknown

Junior remains optimistic while battling an undiagnosed condition


Dana Summers

Heading for the elevator, junior Miles McDonald leaves class just in time to beat the traffic of the crowded school hallways. Usually accompanied by a friend, McDonald has adjusted quickly to his new means of transportation at school. “Although Miles is totally capable of independent movement, the risks associated with his condition has confined him to a wheelchair,” junior Luke Skrabal said. “Besides the obvious restrictions that come with being in a wheelchair, Miles has also been unable to drive and he travels with an escort wherever he goes in the school.”

Dana Summers, Staff Reporter

Having grown up a typical and healthy teenager, junior Miles McDonald escaped breaking even a bone before the age of 16. On August 4th of 2019, however, all of that changed.

During a normal evening at his house, McDonald experienced the first of what would become regular seizure-like episodes. He woke up on the floor, dazed and confused, with no memory of what had happened.

Upon being taken to the hospital, doctors could not find the cause of this episode, and McDonald was told that it was most likely a fluke incident. Unfortunately, McDonald passed out again the following day, this time falling from the top of his stairs and fracturing his skull. 

“These first couple of times were really scary for me,” McDonald said. “I specifically remember one instance where I woke up in the UNMC trauma center with a whole bunch of doctors hovering over me. I grabbed my phone to look at myself and noticed that one side of my face was completely swollen. As sad as it sounds, I got more used to seeing myself like this as the fainting happened more often.”

For the next four months, McDonald experienced these fainting episodes regularly, sometimes occurring as often as every week. The falls that McDonald suffered during this time resulted in numerous injuries, including a total of four skull fractures, a sprained neck, a fractured jaw and rib, several concussions and brain bleeding.

“I had suffered so many head injuries that I wasn’t functioning at my best,” McDonald said. “I missed a majority of the first semester of the school year. I spent much of the day sleeping and I worried a lot about suffering from more falls.”

Throughout this whole experience, McDonald was making regular visits to the Mayo Clinic in hopes of finding the cause of his problem. After various kinds of tests and no definite answer, he met with a cardiologist who believed to have the answer. 

To fix issues in his heart that the doctors thought were related to his fainting episodes, a six-hour procedure was performed on January 9th. After some recovery time, things seemed to be looking up for McDonald and the problem appeared to be fixed. 

Less than a month later on February 6th, tragedy struck again when McDonald suffered yet another episode. Since then, four more have occurred.

“It was discouraging when I fainted after having the surgery,” McDonald said. “It seemed like all of the doctors were stumped, but I still held on to my hope.”

With upcoming appointments at the Mayo Clinic to test more possible roots of the issue, McDonald continues to make the best out of his unfortunate situation. For the time being, he is in a wheelchair to prevent further injuries. Those close to McDonald acknowledge how his response to everything that has happened is a reflection of his character.

Many high schoolers couldn’t imagine losing the basic freedoms that come with teen life,” junior Luke Skrabal said. “Miles, on the other hand, has persevered through all of his setbacks and has displayed true strength. His attitude has been an inspiration to the many people who are close to him and sets a perfect example of how to overcome adversity with courage.”

While his condition has brought many hardships with it, it has also sparked a new area of interest in McDonald.

“I’ve always heard these crazy kinds of medical stories about other people, but I never expected to be on this end of it,” McDonald said. “Before any of this happened, I had never even considered going into the medical field. Now, it’s something that interests me a lot because I want to be able to help others who are in similar situations as I am.”

Furthermore, McDonald looks at the bright side of things, hoping that the future will bring both physical and mental strength.

“I of course hope that people are eventually able to figure out what the problem is and find a solution,” McDonald said. “In the long run though, maybe this whole experience can help me have a different perspective on life. Although it has been very physically challenging, I hope that I can acquire valuable lessons from everything that I’ve been through.” 

While the medical technology of today gives hope for a positive outcome, McDonald’s perseverance has played an even larger role in fighting his condition thus far.