- Sponsorship -

Byron Center Graduate Won’t Let A Stroke Slow Him Down

Byron Center High School Class of 2013 senior Chris Schmitt wrote a quote for the senior yearbook. “You can’t alter the past, but you can change the future.” Chris’ journey to graduation day has been remarkable, say his parents and the educators who have guided him in reaching his goal to graduate in four years following a major stroke and brain surgery in eighth grade. “Keep moving on,” Chris said to explain the quote further.

The message means a lot coming from Chris, 18, who literally had to relearn everything after he collapsed in the shower in December 2008. The stroke he had suffered leading to the collapse was only the beginning of a series of events. While staying in the hospital, he had a second stroke and his brain swelled, requiring emergency surgery to remove a bone from his skull. He was in a medically induced coma for weeks.

A lot was uncertain and doctors didn’t know the extent to which he would recover. After awakening from the coma, he spent weeks in rehabilitation, undergoing intensive therapy.

“I had to relearn everything as I hadn’t even been able to hold up my head, move my right side, speak or even swallow. After 10 weeks, I walked out of the hospital with the use of a cane,” Chris wrote in an essay for the 2013 GRBS Perseverance Scholarship, which he was awarded from GRBS, a Grand Rapids-based custodial cleaning company.Skateboarder Chris Schmitt had to relearn everything after suffering strokes at age 13

Returning to school

Chris started high school part-time the following fall, nine months after the stroke occurred, while continuing outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy. He had difficulty concentrating and with fatigue, while also struggling to catch up with material he missed. Setbacks have included four seizures.

His teachers and family expected that he would take five years to graduate.

“Through determination and hard work, I have proved them wrong,” he wrote in the essay. “I was determined not to let my struggles interfere with my plans of when I would graduate.”

By attending summer school and taking online classes, he achieved his goal of graduating with his class and plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College in the fall to pursue a criminal justice degree.

“We didn’t know how he would do going back to school. We just tried to get all the safety nets in place so he could,” said mother, Laurie Schmitt.

Reaching milestones

While he still struggles with physical and speech disabilities, Chris now grabs his skateboard and smoothly cruises. He recently went parasailing, swam in the ocean and climbed a waterfall in Jamaica with his family. He has gone zip-lining, ridden in a helicopter, and loves boating. Another major goal he achieved was receiving his driver’s license.

“All of these physical difficulties have given me a greater sense of perseverance. I have had to work so hard to overcome the difficulties and relearn everything. Moving forward, I will face life with the same attitude: willing to work hard in order to overcome any situation I may face,” he wrote.

Robin Michell, Chris’ para-educator for four years, said Chris has come a long way since freshman year, when he needed help walking the halls.

“He just set a goal and if he came up to an obstacle, he would work out a way to overcome it,” Michell said. “For me, it’s inspiring. I use Chris as an example for other students when they have a little complaint. It just puts life in perspective.”

Chris’ parents, Laurie and Gary Schmitt, said his attitude has been impressive.

“It was a big relief to get him through that, but he did it in four years,” said Gary. “We’re very proud of him.”

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


Fourth-grade hockey fan gets a magical hour on ice: ‘I made the shot!’

Raised as a Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins hockey fan, Jackson Solow lights up while skating on an ice rink wearing his favorite hockey jersey...

‘This time it is continued learning’

One school’s switch from in-person to virtual education last week was nearly seamless, especially when compared with the forced school closure in March...

Foundation grants $28,285 in fall funding requests

Virtual phys ed and art experiences, materials to improve classroom focus and books on social issues aimed at middle-schoolers are among the grants approved this fall...

Latest school closings expand on state-ordered high school mandate

More Kent County districts continue to announce temporary school building closures, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Class of 2021 has ‘test-optional’ choice when applying for college

Most schools in the state of Michigan have become SAT/ACT-optional for the Class of 2021 for admission purposes. There are, however, pros and cons for students...

Schools in nine districts announce closures as COVID cases spike

New temporary school building closures were announced by nine school districts in Kent ISD this week, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...

Musical prodigy, international performer, fourth-grader

When Cameron Renshaw was in kindergarten he kept asking his mom, Tina Renshaw, about the cello in her closet...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU