BreeAnna Suitor was
recently awarded the A.C.E. award by the Duneland Exchange Club. A.C.E.
stands for Accepting the Challenge of Excellence, and is given to a senior
at Chesterton High School who has faced a challenging and difficult time in
their life, has persevered and will graduate from high school. The Duneland
Exchange Club gives this award each year to recognize a student for this
BreeAnna was born
on March 20, 1999, in Lexington, Tennessee and moved to Chesterton in 2008.
Her parents are Allison Johnson and Kevin Suitor, and she has one brother,
In July of 2015,
BreeAnna was having a carefree summer before her junior year. While
attending the Porter County fair she felt sick. She went home, took some
ibuprofen and went to bed. Forty-five minutes later she awoke with a severe
migraine headache. Her mom took her to the Franciscan-Alliance ER in
Chesterton. Normally, an ER will give a migraine sufferer stronger pain
medication and send them home. But, Dr. Orlando Cruz, who treated BreeAnna
that day, had a gut reaction this was more than a migraine and ordered a CT
Dr. Cruz delivered
the sobering news that the CT scan revealed a mass on BreeAnna’s brain
behind her left ear. He also explained an ambulance was on its way to take
BreeAnna to one of three children’s hospitals, and BreeAnna’s parents had 45
minutes to decide which. They opted for Riley’s Children’s Hospital in
Indianapolis. After four days of testing it was learned the tumor was the
size of a golf ball, and was on her hearing nerve. It was smashing her
facial nerve and pressing on her brain, but it was benign.
The tumor had been
there a while, but its size was alarming. BreeAnna underwent seven different
surgeries to remove the tumor. The first surgery took 16 hours, and removed
70% of the tumor. An ENT surgeon removed the tumor on her ear and the
majority of BreeAnna’s inner ear. A neurosurgeon removed the tumor on her
brain. Other surgeries included adding a shunt and regulator to control the
fluid flow from the brain; removing her ear drum, making her completely deaf
in the left ear; and placing a hearing aid near her left ear.
experienced short and long-term effects from the tumor and its removal. She
missed an entire semester of school and had to make up 15 credits in one
semester. The surgeries left her with Bells Palsy on the left side of her
face, a temporary paralysis which causes half of the face to droop.
BreeAnna’s Bells Palsy has significantly improved, but she’s not fully
recovered. The long-term effects include losing all hearing in her left ear;
never riding a roller coaster; never flying in an airplane; never swimming
under water; and never taking a cruise on a ship.
When Dr. Orlando
told BreeAnna’s mom about the tumor she was in shock and disbelief. She is
extremely thankful the tumor was benign. She made it through this difficult
time with family support and because as a parent you have to be strong for
initially heard the news she started to shut down. Once she fully understood
the situation, she focused on getting better. She too is thankful the tumor
was benign. While in the children’s hospital she saw extremely sick kids,
reminding her how fortunate she is. She also helped other kids while she was
in the hospital. Nearby BreeAnna’s room was a one-year old boy who had
severe burns on his legs. BreeAnna would spend time with him and provide
comfort. Focusing on others helped.
Though BreeAnna was
strong during this time, she was changed. Prior to discovering the tumor,
BreeAnna was an outgoing person, and after the surgeries she became
withdrawn, didn’t trust others and faced depression.
What surprised and
saddened her was losing her boyfriend and friends during this time. Only one
friend stuck by her side, and she has seen the worst in some of her peers.
When she returned to school she was bald, she had scars on the back and side
of her head, the left side of her face drooped due to the Bells Palsy and
she had gained weight due to medication. One male student, whom she’d known
for eight years, called her a “down syndrome dyke”. A female student, whom
she had been friends with since fifth grade, continues to this day to make
fun of her.
BreeAnna has learned to ignore them. Also, during this difficult time she
received wonderful help from CHS counselor Julie Roytan.
”I hope people will
get to know someone before they make a judgement about them,” BreeAnna said
of her experience. She wishes more people were like the special needs kids
she works with, accepting others for who they are, not what they look like.
Her mom said
BreeAnna is now outgoing, loves to talk, is strong willed, determined
BreeAnna has been through, she has done remarkably well in school. Prior to
getting sick BreeAnna’s grades were Cs and Ds, because she didn’t take
school seriously and socializing was her priority. Today, she gets As and Bs
and her focus is on learning.
BreeAnna has a
bright future ahead. She has been accepted to five colleges, and she hopes
to be a special needs teacher or a counselor.
Both BreeAnna and
her mom hope all of us understand we are not promised tomorrow, so we need
to make the most of today!