Jonathan Dibble tightened the belt on his harness and looked up.
At the Triangle Rock Club in Raleigh, Jonathan was about to ascend on one of the climbing walls. He looked up at the top and studied the different routes. He touched the rocks to get a good feel.
And he climbed.
For the average person, who has suffered a stroke in their life, and still struggles with the right side of his body, it might be difficult.
But for the 14-year-old Garner Magnet High student, he makes it look as if it is a piece of cake. With his younger brother, Nathaniel, steadying the rope on the ground, Jonathan reaches the top of the 30-foot wall in less than two minutes.
“It’s just amazing,” Cynthia Dibble said looking up at her son as he reaches the top. “He doesn’t think about it. He just does it.
Amazing, because only six years ago, while in California visiting family with his mom, Jonathan suffered a stroke.
Suffering a stroke
The family thinks it had something to do with a roller coaster he rode in California. After getting off the roller coaster he complained that his head was hurting. He continued to complain after they left the beach.
The family drove back home. They stopped at a grocery store.
Jonathan, then eight years old, was in the backseat of their car and his mom looked back and noticed her son didn’t look right.
“His face was all twisted,” she said. “He was paralyzed-like.”
Cynthia asked him was he OK but he didn’t answer. His uncle suggested he may be dehydrated, so they tried to give him water, but he couldn’t swallow. The water just fell down his shirt.
Cynthia Dibble’s brother then drove her son to the hospital as fast as he could. The woman just barely taller than her son carried him out of the car in her arms and into the emergency room.
“I told (the doctors) what happened and the (doctor) said ‘it looks like a stroke, but kids don’t have strokes,’” Cynthia Dibble said.
The doctors performed some tests and determined Jonathan did have a stroke. After 18 hours they sent him to a Children’s hospital where he stayed for 29 days.
Cynthia Dibble called her husband, Jonathan’s dad, Dave Dibble, who had stayed back in Raleigh with his two older sons, and told him the news.
“When I got off the phone with her, I went outside,” Dave Dibble said. “I didn’t know what to do. I went outside and I started walking. Next thing I knew I had walked about five miles. I worried about him dying. Everything goes through your head.”
Dave Dibble read as much as he could on children with strokes to learn more about it.
Strokes are extremely rare in children.
According to the National Stroke Association, “the risk of stroke from birth through age 18 is almost 11 in 100,000 children per year.”
Strokes are slightly more common in children under two. Boys and African-American children are at a higher risk for stroke than other groups.
“Because people do not think about newborns and children having strokes, they are not often recognized or treated properly,” according to the association.
That was the case for Jonathan, when the doctor did not recognize what was going on.
“The doctor called to find out the test results of what happened and he was shocked, because he (thought) children didn’t have strokes,” Cynthia said.
He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t speak. He had extensive brain damage.
“He was in a condition where he couldn’t remember how to make himself talk,” Dave Dibble said.
“It was like having an eight-year-old baby,” Cynthia Dibble added. “He had to do everything completely over again.”
When he got back home, he had to see neurologists and hematologists. He had five doctors appointments a week and seven hours of therapy a day.
“Just lots of therapy a day,” Cynthia Dibble said fighting back tears.
Dave Dibble said Jonathan has always been a good, selfless and sweet kid. He said he often wondered why this happened to his son.
“It just makes you question everything else,” Dave Dibble said. “You question God, you question everything. It hit us like a sledge hammer.”
As each day passed, Jonathan started to get a little healthier. One of his therapists suggested he was strong enough to take up rock climbing. Rock climbing would also help gain a little strength in the right side of his body.
He liked it and eventually started climbing on a regular basis.
For Jonathan, rock climbing makes him feel like there isn’t anything wrong with his right side. Like he’s normal again.
The more he climbed, the better he got. He said one day he overheard some of the volunteers at Duke Adaptive Climbing talk about how good a climber he was becoming.
“It made me feel confident about myself,” Jonathan said.
He then joined a national competition in July, called the USA Adaptive Climbing Nationals in Kennesaw, Ga. There he competed against 70 other competitors with physical disabilities.
And he won first place in the Male Youth category.
Today, Jonathan’s foot drags without his computerized WalkAide. Sometimes it takes him a while to process things.
“Sometimes I know it, but I can’t say it,” Jonathan said.
He also still struggles with the right side of his body. But he makes it work.
He’s a straight-A student.
Jonathan will try the national competition again. If he wins he can compete for internationals in Paris, to be the best in the world.
Jonathan said prior to the first competition he knew he was good, but he didn’t know he was that good.
“It was surprising,” he said of winning it.
But he felt normal again.