Northfield boy who suffered life-threatening aneurysm graduates

  • John Orcutt, 18, will graduate from Pioneer Valley Regional School on Friday after overcoming a life-threatening brain aneurysm when he was 13 years old. Submitted photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/3/2016 11:42:46 PM

NORTHFIELD — When he was in seventh grade, John Orcutt suffered a brain aneurysm after being hit in the head with a baseball during practice. Now, five years of hard work — and studies — later, Orcutt graduated from Pioneer Valley Regional School Friday.

Orcutt’s story of perseverance begins on March 23, 2011, the day of the accident that would change his life. He remembers suffering from headaches for several days prior, which became worse after he was hit in the head.

At home, Orcutt’s eyes dilated and he became unresponsive. An ambulance rushed him to the former Northfield Mount Hermon School, where a LifeFlight helicopter took him to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.

“I was in a panic,” Orcutt’s mother, Leann Orcutt, 47, said. “I couldn’t even think straight. ... It was the scariest moment of our lives.”

At the hospital, Orcutt was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, the bulging of a weakened blood vessel in the brain, and received emergency surgery to release pressure.

“When we got to the hospital, he was already in emergency surgery,” Orcutt’s father, Edward Orcutt, 56, said. “When he landed, he didn’t have but 20 minutes left.”

After the operation, doctors prepared the Orcutts for the worst, but John Orcutt wasted no time recovering.

“It was the next day, I think, he proved (the doctors) wrong,” Leann Orcutt said. “He was sitting up in a chair.”

Because of the aneurysm, Orcutt underwent four surgeries to stop the bleeding and later to repair his skull. He was in the Intensive Care Unit for at least six weeks, went to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston three times a week for a month and continued outside therapy back home.

“He had to learn speech all over again because he had a hard time talking,” Leann Orcutt said. He also had to learn to walk again.

The accident left Orcutt with limited functioning in his right hand, and no peripheral vision in his right eye. Regardless, he learned to do everything left-handed and uses prism glasses that allow him 20 percent more vision.

Orcutt’s resilience has led him to continue doing many of the things that he loves to do, like participating in sports. Orcutt goes bowling, plays basketball, golf and horseshoes, fishes by holding the rod upside down with his left hand, and even drives a Ford F-350 that he bought for himself. He’s also figured out how to play video games by placing the paddle on his lap and using only his left hand.

Orcutt was able to return to school full time in early 2012, and Pioneer placed him in the pre-employment program (PEP) taught at Franklin County Technical School, where his parents say he has received excellent grades.

Still, the Orcutts said they didn’t expect their son to graduate so soon.

“The last (Individualized Education Program) meeting we had, they had said a year and a half,” Edward Orcutt said. But then, a week and a half ago, Pioneer alerted the Orcutts that their son had accomplished all his directives and would graduate on time.

“A lot of people have been very impressed with him,” Leann Orcutt said of her son’s accomplishments. “He’s an inspiration. ... He’s come so far.”

Orcutt will spend another year at Franklin County Technical School, where he’ll earn a post-graduate certificate in carpentry, a trade he has loved all his life.

“I was doing carpentry when I was, like, 2 years old with my grandfather,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt is considering going to college for architecture, possibly at Keene State University in New Hampshire, entering the carpenter’s union or becoming a finish carpenter.

“I thank God that I was able to heal as much as I have, and to be able to take carpentry class,” Orcutt said of his accomplishments.

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