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Kent State Student Excels Despite Down Syndrome

Language comes easy for Portage County native

Megan Rothermel has never let the word “no” stop her from achieving academic success and independence. And she hears the word a lot.

No, she can’t learn Spanish because she has Down syndrome.

No, she can’t be independent because she has diabetes.

But to all the doubters, the short, pony-tailed 23-year-old says, “Watch me.”

Academic ups and downs

The first trial came in kindergarten when Megan’s mother, DeeOnda, tried to enroll her in the Garrettsville school system. The system’s policy said no students with multiple disabilities could attend. They were instead sent to Ravenna schools, which were better equipped for disabled students.

But Ravenna was far away. DeeOnda wanted Megan to go to school with her neighbors so she could make friends close to home. After DeeOnda debated with the Garrettsville school staff, they finally agreed to accept Megan.

She became the first multiple-disability student at the school, and she still talks to her best friend she met in kindergarten.

“Every time we started school, every year, the teachers would be real hesitant about having her in their classroom,” DeeOnda said.

The teachers thought Megan would require a lot of extra work on their part. DeeOnda said it was mainly the Down syndrome that worried them. “And probably ‘cause of my health issue too,” Megan, who’d been silent, adds softly.

Before 1975, students with multiple disabilities were rarely sent to school at all. Many were housed in mental institutions until the Education of the Handicapped Act forced public schools to create special intervention and education programs for the disabled, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Though teachers had their doubts about Megan, she said she exceeded their expectations.

“The only downfall I had is math. But science, history, language … I excelled in. I got A’s,“ Megan said triumphantly.

In high school, Megan took regular education classes — except for one special education class in English.

Because she didn’t take regular English she couldn’t take a class she was interested in: spanish. School policy dicatated students had to pass the regular English class to take a foreign language.

“So mom said that was okay, and we went and got (Spanish) CD’s, and I taught myself Spanish,” Megan said matter-of-factly.

Along with the tapes, she got some help from the Spanish teacher, Anna Stamolis. Anna said she met Megan after substituting in the special education room.

“She’d always say, ‘I wanna learn to speak Spanish,’” Anna said. So Anna gave Megan a Spanish book to study on her own. She soon found out Megan had a great memory and could learn Spanish words and sentences with ease.

“And I would see the Spanish teacher in the hallway and I would speak to her in Spanish, and then the teacher really liked me; liked how I spoke to her, and invited me to be in her class,” Megan said, grinning.

School administrators made an exception to their rule and let Megan take Spanish.

“I would put the kids to shame because she’d get a 95 or 96 percent on her tests and kids in regular (education) couldn’t do that,” Anna said.

People with Down syndrome have proven quite adept at understanding information, but they often struggle to express the knowledge they’ve retained, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. They have trouble processing information and then focusing attention on one task. Megan’s been taking classes and improving her Spanish for five years.

“I can say, “Hola, muy bien, y tu?” Megan brags, rolling her R’s. She’s also taken two semesters of American Sign Language through ’s Career and Community Services program for the intellectually disabled. Those classes prepared her for an unexpected opportunity. She got to sign the national anthem at last December’s Special Olympics.

“I stood in front of everybody,” Megan proudly announced.

And she plans on taking Greek next semester.

Breaking away

Megan is 23, but her unpredictable diabetes makes her rely on her mother to help her when her blood sugar is high or low.

She contracted Type 1 Diabetes when she had chicken pox in kindergarten. Her antibodies tried to kill the virus, but instead they unintentionally killed part of her pancreas. The organ stopped producing insulin, and she had to start injecting herself with insulin to regulate her blood sugar.

She must figure out exactly how many carbs she’ll ingest before every meal of the day. For every 15 carbs, she must inject two units of insulin. Megan’s math skills are lacking, so she has to call her mother every time she eats to calculate how much insulin to take.

Even if she painstakingly keeps track of her diet, her blood sugar sometimes still drops or rises for apparently no reason at all. In the past, her mother or high school aids were always around to help her. Now that she’s taking college courses and spending more time on her own she must watch it herself. Not all by herself, though; her best friend Kelsy Hodgkinson is usually there to throw her a sugary treat or tell her to take an insulin shot to bring her back to normal.

Kelsy said Megan starts to yawn and get grumpy when her sugar start to plummet. Kelsy then makes sure Megan eats sugary food to raise it back to normal. If Megan’s sugar is extremely low, Kelsy calls DeeOnda to come and take Megan to the emergency room. Sometimes Kelsy has to call DeeOnda during class.

Once, Kelsy noticed Megan was becoming irritable. She saw Megan reaching for her tube of mini M&M’s, but she knew her fine motor skills weren’t the best because of Down syndrome. Kelsey jumped up, grabbed the tube, ripped the plastic case off, and handed Megan some chocolates.

On her own

Megan’s also ready for another kind of independence.

“She’s got a boyfriend now,” DeeOnda slyly admits.

“Thanks, mom” Megan replied sarcastically — with a hint of excitement.

Megan met her 6-foot tall, brown-haired boyfriend Brad Bohrer in Kent State’s CCS program.

“He came up to me and said, ‘I’m gonna marry Megan,’” DeeOnda said. “I said, ‘You are? Does she know this?’ He said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Well Brad, don’t you think you ‘oughta tell her?’”

So Brad told her, and they started dating. Megan brings Brad into the conversation whenever she can, whether it’s mooning over the flowers and stuffed animals he’s given her or giggling about his Michael Jackson-esque dance moves.

“They’re talkin’ about getting married. But it’s not gonna happen ‘til they’re out of school,” DeeOnda said.

“Thanks mom,” Megan grumbled.

So far, they’ve been to the mall, movies and dinner. Though their parents must drive them to dates because neither of them have a driver’s license, Megan’s still hopeful the two of them can live by themselves one day. Even if that means living one driveway from her family’s home. The Rothermels own a guest home in their cul-de-sac, which they’ll give to Megan once she’s ready to move out.

Still, Megan won’t be able to enjoy a traditional family life. Her depleted pancreas can’t support a pregnancy.

“He wants to have five kids, but I’m a diabetic and I can’t put my body through it,” Megan said.

Brad told her he would much rather sacrifice having a baby rather than put Megan’s life in jeopardy.

“So, we switched from five kids to five dogs,” Megan said with a grin.

“I’m okay with the dogs,” DeeOnda chuckled.

Lauren Costa May 08, 2012 at 04:16 PM
This is such an inspirational story! Keep on achieving your goals, Megan! I'm sure this story will help others do the same.
Megan Rothermel May 08, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Thank you this means a lot to me.
ashley pierce May 08, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I went to school with Megan, all through school!!! She has always been upbeat and happy!!! Megan you will always have a special place in my heart!!!!! You were a great kid and I'm glad to see what you've accomplished!!!
Brittany Moore May 08, 2012 at 10:07 PM
I'm very surprised more people haven't commented. You are seriously amazing and have proven to the world that anyone can do what they set their mind to..the problem is most people are too lazy or too hard on themselves and just throw in the towel. Congrats on everything you've accomplished so far and never give up!
angie orlando May 08, 2012 at 10:57 PM
What a What a wonderful story! I'm deaf-blind and physically impaired. I refuse to listen to "no," just like Megan. I wish you the happiest life you can dream of.
Ryan Lane May 08, 2012 at 11:14 PM
I'm Megan's cousin... and from the standpoint of our family.. Megan is an inspiration to all of us.. and she is somebody we hold in high regard. I'm a couple years older than Megan.. but.. that don't matter.. I can honestly say.. Megan is my hero.. and I think I speak for the rest of our family. She is not just my hero.. but.. she is OUR HERO. Megan.. I and the rest of the family here in Columbus love you DEARLY.. we love you MORE THAN WORDS CAN SAY. We love you.. and we miss you.. and can't wait for you to come back to pay us another visit here in Columbus. Keep up the good work! I'm always thinking about you! YOU GO GIRL! Ryan Lane Plain City, OH
Ryan Lane May 08, 2012 at 11:16 PM
I'm Megan's cousin... and from the standpoint of our family.. Megan is an inspiration to all of us.. and she is somebody we hold in high regard. I'm a couple years older than Megan.. but.. that don't matter.. I can honestly say.. Megan is my hero.. and I think I speak for the rest of our family. She is not just my hero.. but.. she is OUR HERO. Megan.. I and the rest of the family here in Columbus love you DEARLY.. we love you MORE THAN WORDS CAN SAY. We love you.. and we miss you.. and can't wait for you to come back to pay us another visit here in Columbus. Keep up the good work! I'm always thinking about you! YOU GO GIRL! Ryan Lane Plain City, OH
Ryan Lane May 08, 2012 at 11:16 PM
I'm Megan's cousin... and from the standpoint of our family.. Megan is an inspiration to all of us.. and she is somebody we hold in high regard. I'm a couple years older than Megan.. but.. that don't matter.. I can honestly say.. Megan is my hero.. and I think I speak for the rest of our family. She is not just my hero.. but.. she is OUR HERO. Megan.. I and the rest of the family here in Columbus love you DEARLY.. we love you MORE THAN WORDS CAN SAY. We love you.. and we miss you.. and can't wait for you to come back to pay us another visit here in Columbus. Keep up the good work! I'm always thinking about you! YOU GO GIRL! Ryan Lane Plain City, OH
Ryan Lane May 08, 2012 at 11:16 PM
I'm Megan's cousin... and from the standpoint of our family.. Megan is an inspiration to all of us.. and she is somebody we hold in high regard. I'm a couple years older than Megan.. but.. that don't matter.. I can honestly say.. Megan is my hero.. and I think I speak for the rest of our family. She is not just my hero.. but.. she is OUR HERO. Megan.. I and the rest of the family here in Columbus love you DEARLY.. we love you MORE THAN WORDS CAN SAY. We love you.. and we miss you.. and can't wait for you to come back to pay us another visit here in Columbus. Keep up the good work! I'm always thinking about you! YOU GO GIRL! Ryan Lane Plain City, OH
Jean Frazier May 09, 2012 at 01:09 AM
I loved reading Megan's story. What a great story and inspiration. Megan will go far in life.
Lacey Barstow May 09, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Megan I just wanted to say how proud I am of you. Your such an amazing person and have never given up on your goals and dreams. I have known Megan since kindergarden till now, I have been in several classes with her, gone to her house to hang out watch movies, shoot hoops outside, and even gone out to lunch with her and her mom and grandma oh and shopping of course. This is a very inspirational story and I'm happy to say that Megan is one of my friends :)
Matt Fredmonsky May 09, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Glad you enjoyed seeing the story, Megan. Thanks for setting a positive example for all of us.
Trish Paolucci May 09, 2012 at 03:02 PM
With all the depressing stories in the news, I am so happy to have read this one! I have always been a believer in people with "disabilities". This word merely describes what others see on the outside... It's a word that raises assumptions about capability. Megan, you are one of many successful people who have excelled, despite the expectations of others. I can't tell you how many people I have met in my lifetime who have perfectly normal intelligence, but have not been given the proper opportunities because they cannot speak...or make eye contact...or they process sensory input differently. We all need to assume that every human being has at least average (and often above average) intelligence, whether we see it or not... We need to treat people whom we see differently, with the same respect that we demand for ourselves. We need more Megans, but we won't see the potential for achievement until we have more people like her family, friends, neighbors, teachers, therapists, employers, co-workers and community peers who believe that each one of us can reach our fullest potential. Keep up the good work, Megan. You have become our educator!!!!
Courtney Shilling May 09, 2012 at 04:53 PM
So proud of you, Megan! Your big heart and determination has always been inspirational to me. We will all have to get together this summer, miss you! :)
William Jordan May 09, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Love you cousin and BFF You are certainly MY inspiration from the day you were born. Your parents are as inspirational. Thanks for sharing your story with the world. Bill Jordan
kerry agins May 10, 2012 at 04:01 AM
This story embodies hope and inspiration in its truest form. Thank you for blazing a path for others to follow, never listening to the word "no" and grasping your dreams with both hands. Great job, Megan ... and congratulations to your family who have supported you along the way! Kerry Agins
MamaJay May 11, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Our son, born with Downs, is just finishing high school. He also has Diabetes along with Celiac disease. These definitely present challenges. Sometimes the biggest challenge of all is getting others to think outside the box. You and your family are a shining example of how you just have to stick together and be determined. Good luck to you!
Mary Polley-Zeigler May 11, 2012 at 09:31 PM
You rock Megan! My daughter had Trisomy 18 and died at the tender age of 9months, 12days. The doctors all focused on what she could NOT do instead of all the things she could do. (Flash forward 20 years and Pediatric Cardoligists are doing surgery, thus saving lives. They refused top operate on my Anna and told me she would have "no quality of life," id she survived.) Megan, not only have your survived...you have thrived!! Keep up the good work!
Madison Hill Morsefield May 13, 2012 at 05:27 PM
good job megan you the best ever in my life. your friiend Madison Hill Morsefield p.s. i am so happy for you
Kate Wolfe May 13, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Awesome! As a mother of a son with down syndrome I KNOW how bright the future is! Thanks for sharing your story and re affirming that for us!!
Patricia (Tish) Brett May 19, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Megan. I was so happy to see how well you're doing at college. I knew you would. Am also glad I was able to meet Brad that day in the store. Keep up the great work!!!
alisa hackler June 11, 2012 at 05:51 PM
YAY MEGAN KEEP GOING FROM THE GOCHNOUR FAMILY

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