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Potsdam student overcomes tremendous odds to make it to graduation

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POTSDAM — As members of Potsdam High School’s Class of 2014 made their way across the stage at the Helen M. Hosmer Concert Hall last week, one graduate, Steve A. Bartlett Jr., received a standing ovation.

To make it to graduation night, any student must overcome some obstacles, whether it be a Regents exam, a devastating breakup or maybe even missing a few weeks of school with the flu or a broken bone.

But those obstacles all pale in comparison to what Mr. Bartlett, Winthrop, the son of Tonya and Steve Bartlett, has had to overcome.

His mother explained, “He came down with diabetes in 1998 when he was 3 and in Head Start. Then he came down with anemia in 2002 and was diagnosed with having low platelet counts in 2001,” she said, adding once Mr. Bartlett reached the second grade he had to be home-schooled.

“He was on a lot of steroids, and it was a struggle just to keep his blood levels normal, so he could do any normal activities,” Mrs. Bartlett said.

The litany of health issues wasn’t over.

“When he was 6, he developed an immune disorder, CVID, but they weren’t sure what it was then,” she said.

It wasn’t until 2007, following a lung biopsy, that the official diagnosis was made. Previously Mr. Bartlett had been diagnosed with a lung disorder and was on oxygen for three years.

In 2005, doctors placed Mr. Bartlett on Adasept, a treatment that he continues to receive twice monthly.

The worst scare for the family came in 2007 when Mr. Bartlett, 11 at the time, went into liver failure and was airlifted from Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, to a children’s hospital in Cincinnati.

“They didn’t think he was going to make it,” Mrs. Bartlett said, adding she received a phone call from the hospital in Cincinnati telling her that her son had only six hours to live.

“They called me while Hospice was here with my father,” she said. That’s a day that Mr. Bartlett said he also remembers well.

“One of the doctors told me when I was in Cincinnati that I was going to die in five hours,” he said. “Imagine hearing that when you’re 11 and your mother isn’t in the room.”

After recovering from that scare, Mr. Bartlett said doctors told him he wasn’t going to make it to age 16.

“Well, I made it to 16 and got my permit, so that was a pretty big step,” he said. Next, he said, were earning his driver’s license and graduating from high school.

His mother said he tried to return to school in the sixth and eighth grades, but it wasn’t until the ninth grade that he was able to become a Sandstoner and attend Potsdam High School.

Mr. Bartlett attended classes there through last November when he once again had to be home-schooled due to yet another diagnosis: Crohn’s disease. This past fall he began getting violently ill on a regular basis.

“The doctors told me I was making this up and that I didn’t want to live anymore,” Mr. Bartlett said. “My mom started to believe them.”

His weight dropped from 89 to 49 pounds, his mother said, but her son, who is 4 feet 6, is now up to 62 pounds. Mr. Bartlett studied from home with support from the school.

Principal Joann Chambers “really wanted to see me graduate and walk that stage,” Mr. Bartlett said.

He will be taking online college courses through Empire State College, majoring in photography and working on a photo biography.

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