MAPLE PARK, Ill. – I've met Jonathan Alstott a couple of times: First in the fall of 2000 when he was a newborn, cradled in the arms of his mother Marisue; then again when he was a rambunctious 5-year-old who didn't seem to stop moving at a top rate of speed.
I could only catch up recently with the teenager again via cellphone because he's in Florida on vacation. But I did read all about him in the Sports section of the Beacon-News: a four-year varsity football player for Kaneland High School who is being recruited by colleges because, well, he obviously never stopped moving at a top rate of speed.
Which is all pretty amazing to me when I go back and read the two stories I wrote so very long ago about this talented kid's unique start in life.
It was 18 years ago that Jonathan Alstott came into this world being touted by family and medical staff as a "miracle." According to witnesses, there was not a dry eye in the delivery room because the 33-year-old Aurora mother giving life to him was also battling for her own survival against an aggressive form of breast cancer.
When doctors had learned she was pregnant, their overwhelming recommendation had been to end the pregnancy because chemotherapy would not only harm the child but reduce her own chances of beating the disease.
But Marisue and her then-husband, Jim, had tried so desperately to have a baby that abortion was not an option. And the only doctors at that time who would treat her with chemotherapy were at Northwestern University's Kellogg Cancer Care Center in Evanston, who put their faith in an older form of chemo that had been proven to be less risky for fetuses.
That's also how little Jonathan became known as "Chemo Baby" by the medical staff who worked hard to keep him alive for five months while his mother underwent chemo therapy for two- week intervals until she reached the 32-week gestation mark.
A premature Jonathan arrived 18 years ago weighing five pounds ... and with much more hair than his mom, who had lost all hers to harsh rounds of chemo. Throughout more tough periods of treatment, that also included radiation and reconstructive surgery, this determined mom never wavered in her decision or in her faith that all would turn out OK.
And although she and Jonathan's father divorced when he was young, both parents remarried, giving him two younger half-siblings and three older step-siblings that all together, he told me in a phone interview from Disney World, make up "an amazing family" because they work so well together and all are close.
"We have all been blessed," insisted Marisue Nagy, a social worker with West Aurora School District, who describes herself as in excellent health, despite doctor warnings her type of cancer meant the chances of it returning were significant.
Marisue says she still goes back for yearly checkups to her same Evanston oncologists, but so there's been no recurrence of the disease that had not only threatened her own life but that of her unborn son.
In addition to being an excellent two-sport athlete, "he's just a darn nice kid," said his grandmother Jeannie Prombo, who as Jonathan's "No. 1 fan," never misses a Kaneland football or baseball game.
"I look at them both as miracles," she said of her daughter and grandson.
As for Jonathan, who gradually became aware of his unique birth while moving through childhood, he now fully appreciates the sacrifices his mother made long before he was born.
"I was blessed with life and if I don't make the most of it, it would be a waste," he said.
"That's why I'm so determined to be the best person I can be."