With a little help from his friends

Mail Tribune, Oregon/June 10, 2006
By Paris Achen

When senior Berkley Conner was diagnosed with leukemia seven months ago, his studies at Eagle Point High School came to a halt.

Conner was taking a break from his advanced placement courses to travel to Mexico with his friend when the symptoms assailed him.

"I was shaking and passing out," he said. "I could hardly walk. I didn't know what was going on."

Midway through his trip to Mexico, he was forced to turn back and go to the emergency room at Rogue Valley Medical Center, where doctors found his red blood-cell count was down by two-thirds.

Without a blood transfusion, he had two weeks to live.

Thanks to treatment at Doernbechers Childrens Hospital in Portland and the encouragement of friends, family and his home tutor, Cecile Enright, Conner walked the stage at the Eagle Point High School stadium Friday to receive his diploma.

"A few minutes after I turned in my last homework, it hit me I was done," Conner said. "I thought what am I going to do now? Lie around the house?"

Today he will celebrate his high school graduation at a party with more than 100 family members and friends in Shady Cove.

"We are just thrilled he is graduating," said his grandmother, Alice Conner, of Prineville. "We had a couple of touch-and-go times, and we were just glad he survived and got to graduate."

His acute lymphoblastic leukemia is in remission. However, he still undergoes chemotherapy in hopes of keeping the disease at bay.

After his diagnosis, Conner went to Doernbechers Children's Hospital in hopes of receiving alternative treatment.

Conner, who is a Jehovah's Witness, declined a blood transfusion his doctors said was necessary. Jehovah's Witnesses believe blood transfusions are against the Bible based on a verse in Leviticus describing consequences for consuming blood.

The hospital sought a court order to give Conner a transfusion, which was granted. When he returned home, the Eagle Point School District provided an at-home tutor, Cecile Enright, to help Conner complete the one and a half credits he needed to graduate.

Conner's mother, Callie, gave up her work at the family's construction company to care for him.

"I was always out of it and tired," Conner said. "A lot of times I was sick, and I couldn't do the school work."

His mother, Enright and his best friend, Kathleen Ezangelista, did what they could to motivate him to forge ahead with his studies.

"When you are so close to graduation and so worn down, you need someone to push you a little harder and tell you, you'll make it," said Ezangelista, who graduated with him."He finished his schoolwork before me, which is pretty amazing."

Conner plans to attend Rogue Community College next year and hopes to eventually study civil engineering or physics at a university. He is engaged to Katie Scott, a home-school senior. They plan to marry in about a year.

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