Father Judge grad awarded scholarship

Quite an hon­or: On Ju­ly 31, Ry­an Don­aghy re­ceived a Glaxo­S­mithK­line Op­por­tun­ity Schol­ar­ship, worth a total of $8,000 for two years of study. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

As a tod­dler, Ry­an Don­aghy suffered from fre­quent head pain.

“My mom told me I would al­ways hold my head and cry,” he said.

At first, his par­ents didn’t know what their son’s prob­lem was.

At age 3, they found out. Young Ry­an was dia­gnosed with Chiari mal­form­a­tion. The base of his brain does not sit with­in his skull. As a res­ult, he faced many med­ic­al is­sues, in­clud­ing hy­dro­ceph­alus, a life-threat­en­ing buildup of spin­al flu­id in the brain.

Today, he’s 18 and a re­cent high school gradu­ate. His child­hood wasn’t easy. He had chron­ic head­aches and 15 sur­ger­ies, in­clud­ing three ma­jor brain sur­ger­ies. Sev­en of those sur­ger­ies were in the last five years.

“I didn’t know the sever­ity at a young­er age, but it was a big struggle through high school,” he said.

Re­cently­Don­aghy was re­cog­nized for over­com­ing his chal­lenges. On Ju­ly 31, he re­ceived a Glaxo­S­mithK­line Op­por­tun­ity Schol­ar­ship dur­ing a ce­re­mony at the com­pany’s loc­a­tion in the Navy Yard in South Phil­adelphia.

Don­aghy, who gradu­ated in June from Fath­er Judge High School, will at­tend Com­munity Col­lege of Phil­adelphia’s North­east Re­gion­al Cen­ter. The schol­ar­ship is worth a total of $8,000 for two years of study. The money will go to tu­ition, books and ma­ter­i­als.

“I’m ex­cited,” he said about win­ning the schol­ar­ship and a framed cer­ti­fic­ate. “I’ll use the funds to fur­ther my edu­ca­tion.”

Don­aghy, a Tor­res­dale res­id­ent, ap­plied for the schol­ar­ship pro­gram, which is ad­min­istered by The Phil­adelphia Found­a­tion.

Hun­dreds of young Phil­adelphi­ans ap­plied for the schol­ar­ship, which is awar­ded to “per­sons who have the po­ten­tial to suc­ceed des­pite ad­versity and who have an ex­cep­tion­al de­sire to bet­ter them­selves through fur­ther edu­ca­tion.”

Don­aghy was among 25 fi­nal­ists, and he re­ceived a re­com­mend­a­tion from Dav­id Mul­hol­land, his former health teach­er dur­ing sopho­more year at Judge.

Mul­hol­land, chair­man of the school’s health and phys­ic­al edu­ca­tion de­part­ment, wrote, “Ry­an’s quiet, un­as­sum­ing and cour­ageous way of deal­ing with life chal­lenges will hope­fully be re­cog­nized as a res­ult of this schol­ar­ship.”

Don­aghy re­ceived an “A” in class. Mul­hol­land wrote, “Watch­ing Ry­an deal with his ad­versit­ies, while still get­ting one of the highest grades in the class, res­ul­ted in his peers not us­ing ex­cuses whenev­er their per­form­ance did not equal his ef­fort.”

Mul­hol­land also quoted from an es­say writ­ten by Kaitlyn Don­aghy about her older broth­er. She wrote, “Ry­an is brave, lov­ing and a role mod­el. Not only does Ry­an give great ad­vice, but he can make any­one’s day bright­er. The world would be a bet­ter place if every­one tried their best like my broth­er Ry­an.”

Don­aghy missed little school time des­pite all of his health is­sues. He was among the top 15 per­cent aca­dem­ic­ally in Judge’s seni­or class.

“I wanted to stay in school so I stayed caught up with my stud­ies,” he said.

At the ce­re­mony, Don­aghy was joined by his par­ents, Pat and Lor­raine; his broth­er, Danny; his sis­ter, Kaitlyn; his grand­par­ents, Pa­tri­cia and Joseph Wilson; his girl­friend, Meghan Con­roy; his friend, Tyler Wag­n­er; and his boss at St. Martha Par­ish, Kev­in Long.

The teen­ager, who mostly has been treated at St. Chris­toph­er’s Hos­pit­al for Chil­dren, coun­ted on them and oth­ers as he neared all his sur­ger­ies.

“I was wor­ried, of course, but I’ve had a great sup­port sys­tem of fam­ily and friends who’ve helped me make it through,” he said. “And my doc­tors have all been great.”

In a brief speech, Don­aghy thanked his fam­ily, friends and cowork­ers at St. Martha Par­ish, where he handles main­ten­ance is­sues. He’s a gradu­ate of the Academy Road school.

Don­aghy, who was not per­mit­ted by doc­tors to play or­gan­ized sports, had his last sur­gery in Decem­ber. He has a shunt in his head to re­lieve flu­id.

To keep busy, he star­ted play­ing the gui­tar. He’s played the pi­ano for two years and worked at St. Martha for 4½ years.

The teen ex­plained that cer­tain activ­it­ies — re­cre­ation­al sports, work­ing and study­ing — can lead to head­aches. He takes over-the-counter medi­cine for his pain.

“I still get head­aches from time to time. It’s a con­tinu­ing struggle,” he said. “If I feel something, I’ll go to the doc­tor.”

Don­aghy plans to earn a two-year as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in lib­er­al arts and then move on to a four-year uni­versity to study nurs­ing.

“I’ve been around it my whole life,” he said of doc­tors’ of­fices and hos­pit­als. “I want to help oth­ers with their ad­versit­ies.” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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