Meet Your Young Neighbors: Local Teens Overcome Obstacles, Reach Out to Others
If you’re ever tempted to cast a critical eye at today’s youth, two Geist area teens might just change your mind. Seth Johnson and Mallory Carmichael are the epitome of overcoming. They each have taken an obstacle, climbed over it, then reached out a hand to others.
One day he was a happy-go-lucky kindergartner. Two weeks later, he was diagnosed with a mid-brain tumor the size of a golf ball. The inoperable tumor rapidly grew to baseball size, crushing Seth’s optic nerve. After months of radiation treatments, the tumor had shrunk to its original size (as it remains to this day), but Seth’s eyesight was permanently damaged, leaving him legally blind.
“It was a hard thing at the time to go through, but over time, we’ve realized there is a purpose for everything,” said his mother, Sandy Johnson. “It’s made Seth an example to a lot of people, and we are thankful for every single day we have with him.”
While the ordeal might have left some parents with lowered expectations for their child, Sandy and husband Michael wanted Seth to experience a normal life. They sought out adaptive technologies and surrounded Seth with people trained to help the visually impaired.
The Lawrence Township school system provided Seth with special assistants and magnification tools. By the time he was in high school, technology had advanced to the point that Seth needed only his special laptop, which fit nicely in his backpack. Seth even worked as a reporter on the school newspaper and secured an internship with NUVO Newsweekly his senior year. He graduated in May with honors, receiving the William M. Evans Scholarship.
“He’s had a lot of opportunities, and he’s been blessed with great teachers along the way,” Sandy says of Seth, who is headed to Ball State University to study journalism.
Cindy Corbett, a Lawrence Township teacher for the visually impaired, has worked with Seth since second grade and has witnessed how he’s stretched himself to meet challenges. She also credits his parents with knowing when and how to push their son to help him meet his full potential.
“I have totally learned as much from him as he has from me,” says Corbett.
Seth realized just how blessed he has been during a recent mission trip to Honduras with Outlook Christian Church. While helping out in a medical clinic, he had the opportunity to visit with a young boy who also suffered vision loss from a mid-brain tumor. Seth knew that boy would not have the same opportunities he has gotten.
“It was really touching for me and for everyone there,” Seth recalls. “There was such a close connection between me and him.”
Seth has taken three mission trips to Latin America and volunteers with Youth As Resources, sitting on a United Way board that evaluates grant proposals. In addition, he leads the youth worship band at Outlook Christian and plays lead guitar with his own rock band, which often plays at local charity events.
Seth has never pitied himself. In fact, he’s glad that he has been given a unique opportunity to inspire others to achieve their goals.
“Seth has never asked, ‘Why do I have to be this way?’” Sandy says. “He inspires a lot of kids. They think, ‘If Seth can do it, then I can, too.’”
“It all hit me at once,” Mallory recalls. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t see.”
Her condition baffled doctors until finally a diagnosis came: reflex neurovascular disorder, a rare rheumatoid disease which attacks the muscles. Instead of sulking during the seven months she was in and out of hospitals, Mallory wrote a story to help other children, called “Patient Patient Penguins.” She plans to start her own nonprofit by the same name and distribute her book — along with handmade, penguin-printed fleece blankets — to hospitalized children.
There is no cure for the disease, but Mallory has learned to live with it and certainly hasn’t let it hinder her from leading an active lifestyle. As a freshman at Fishers High School, she joined the LaCrosse team, amazing coaches and teammates with her ability to push through the pain.
Although she has not been able to continue competing in figure skating, Mallory volunteers her time as a coach for Special Olympics. She also has a passion for animals and volunteers two days a week at the Indianapolis Zoo.
“She even got SCUBA certified with this disease,” marvels her mother, Tammy Carmichael. “It’s almost pushed her harder to prove she can do whatever she wants to do.”
It came as no surprise, then, when Mallory announced that she wanted to spend a year abroad as a foreign exchange student. While Tammy worried a little about Mallory’s health, she knew her daughter was capable and determined enough to handle it.
Mallory will head to Germany in July as part of the prestigious U.S. Congress-German Bundestag Scholarship program, funded by the U.S. and German governments. The program’s goal is to improve U.S.-German relations, and Mallory will be among approximately 200 student “ambassadors” this year.
While she is in Germany, she will volunteer at the Munich zoo and continue working with the Olympic Committee to coach Special Olympics in Germany. She’ll also bring along some “Patient Patient Penguin” books and blankets.
With teens like Seth Johnson and Mallory Carmichael among us, we should have plenty of reasons to hope for our future. Let’s all take a lesson from these two and pass along kindness despite our personal obstacles.