Megan Yates Column Many people consider a hero to be someone famous they look up to, someone who has accomplished dozens of things in life. My younger brother, Eric, is my hero. At age 14, he has been through much more than anyone I know. As soon as my mother told me and my younger sister, Kelsey, that we would soon have a younger sibling, we were filled with excitement. It was 1997 and at ages 7 and 4, we were anxious to have a new play buddy. I still remember the day he was born. My dad came home and told us we had a new baby brother named Eric. We quickly got dressed and road to the hospital. I couldn’t wait to hold him. Kelsey, on the other hand was a little apprehensive about the whole situation, probably realizing that she would no longer be the baby of the family. Our family was filled with joy, and looking forward to bringing our new, perfect family member home. But the excitement quickly turned into worry upon arriving back home. I distinctly remember walking into the nursery to see my father’s face overwhelmed with concern and my mother’s eyes full of tears. I was confused. It was such a special time, but something was wrong. Not only was Eric unable to breastfeed, he was having trouble even drinking from a bottle. At our young ages, my sister and I only partly understood how much of a problem this could be. After many doctor visits and countless hours of worrying, we still had no answers as to why Eric was unable to eat properly. As he grew older, it was apparent that he had sensory issues. When time to switch to solid foods, he struggled. My parents tried everything, from therapy to visiting specialists across the nation. Nothing seemed to work.
â€œI worried myself sick,â€? says my mother. I remember Eric living off of Malt-O-Meal, mashed potatoes and vitamin shakes for years. As if his eating issues werenâ€™t enough, he was soon diagnosed with Autism-like symptoms. Despite the difficulties life was presenting him, Eric progressed through life like most kids. He enjoyed school, team sports and watching his favorite television shows. It was not until the summer of 2011 that matters became worse. Eric has never been one to complain. He rarely ever cried, even as a baby, and would not tell you if he is in pain. But he started complaining about headaches and my family noticed small changes in the way he was doing things, almost as if he was having trouble seeing. My parents once again took him to multiple doctors and eventually discovered that he had Glaucoma, which caused severe damage to his optic nerve. Eric had lost a great amount of eyesight before we even knew anything was wrong. The Glaucoma, in addition to the other difficulties, was making it harder for Eric to participate in his regular activities. My parents decided that it would be best for him to be homeschool, and he quit playing sports. It all seemed overwhelming, but Eric still remained optimistic. After a few months of getting used to the adjustments, he started having stomach problems. In February 2012, Eric was taken into the hospital and tests were run only to discover yet another problem, he had Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine if gluten is consumed.
My family was discouraged. Many times we asked why all of this was happening to Eric, why he was having so many problems when so many people, including us, are perfectly healthy. It was apparent that the situation seemed to be putting stress on the family. But one day, my dad made an observation that we had missed. Not once had Eric complained about his health or asked why all of this has happened to him. He has never felt sorry for himself or compared his misfortunes to others. He has accepted his situation, and has a positive outlook on life. Eric gets joy from simple things in life. He likes working outside with his dad, playing computer games and helping his mom around the house. His outlook on life is different than most. He is completely content even with his health problems. Many people take what they have and how fortunate they are for granted. Something as simple as reading a book or eating a sandwich is an everyday struggle for my brother. I think we could all learn something from Eric. He has taught me to appreciate everything I have. He is my hero.