Independence days

Project SEARCH teaches young adults like Jaime Blomeling about independence. “I could work here the rest of my life,” Blomeling says.

The hospital room is sparse: a bed, a small laminate desk, a pair of three-drawer dressers.

This is where the doctors rest during long shifts.

Jaime Blomeling knows this, so he’s exact about making make it clean and comfortable. He pulls tight the blue blanket, tucking it into the corners of the bed.

Once finished here, he moves around the hallway corner, scouring additional rooms where doctors take their naps.

Blomeling, 25, wears ski-like goggles to protect against the cleaning agents.

At 4-foot-11 and 70 pounds, he’s a small figure. He has slender fingers, too, and blue eyes, and that back-of-the-head spot that won’t grow hair.

That’s where you’d expect to find a medulloblastoma, although you won’t find it there now. Doctors removed the brain tumor long ago.

“I think I could work here the rest of my life,” Blomeling says, chatting as he stands near a utility cart laden with cleaning chemicals, tools, protective eyewear and gloves.

It’s a curious thing to say. People don’t often think about staying at any one job for too long nowadays.

But to judge Blomeling by this singular sentiment is to know nothing of his past, of the challenges he overcame. Of the death he defied.

‘Crazy stuff’

You’d have to know more about the path that led him here, to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. He takes great pride in cleaning the rooms and lavatories in this restricted portion of the hospital.

“I had some crazy stuff happen to me,” he gently allows.

Really crazy stuff. Brain cancer. Lifelong after-effects. A desire to strike out, even if he wasn’t always sure where.

“He actually went through a young-adult rebellion,” said his stepmother, Sara Blomeling-DeRoo. “He couch-surfed for a couple years. He was very unstable and wanted to kind of burst out on his own.”

It proved to be a turbulent time for Blomeling’s blended family. He has 12 siblings—five on his father’s side, six on his stepmother’s, and they have one adopted child. Their ages range from 5 to 27. Blomeling is second-oldest.

A few years ago, he returned home from his bit of a walkabout.

Even then he still seemed lost, Blomeling-DeRoo remembered. He spent his days watching TV.

But then Blomeling enrolled in Project SEARCH, an occupational development program at Spectrum Health.

“Spectrum Health partners up with other organizations in the community to help underdeveloped students from age 18 to 26 to help build their skills and eventually to live independent like you and I,” said Sara Tran-Du, Spectrum Health’s inclusion and diversity specialist.

Typically, about 10 students go through the program each year, working in three internship-like rotations tailored to each person.

While vocational skills have been key for Blomeling, he has developed skills well beyond this.

“It was a matter of getting confidence in his abilities and how to advocate for himself and be able to ask questions if he was confused or frustrated,” said Amber Zelenock, a Hope Network case worker who assisted Blomeling with job coaching.

The experience would prove life-changing.

Then again, Blomeling knows a bit about such events.

Always forward

Doctors at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital removed the medulloblastoma from his brain at age 5.

The malignant tumor afflicts up to 500 children each year in the U.S., and out of every five, anywhere from one to three will not survive. The survival rates depend on the child’s age, as well as the progression of the disease and whether doctors can completely remove the tumor.

In Blomeling’s case, doctors deemed radiation and chemotherapy necessary.

Sometimes, to save a life, treatments can lead to lifelong side effects.

“Most of his disabilities are based on the treatment,” Blomeling-DeRoo said. “It killed his thyroid, his pituitary. It’s why he has a very small stature. He was a healthy, chubby little child.”

Blomeling requires a hearing aid. Even so, his tastes now are not much different than others his age. He enjoys music.

“Rock and hip hop, rap,” he says. “I like them all.”

He enjoys video games and walking at the nearby Woodland Mall.

“When he gets walking, it’s like Forrest Gump,” his stepmother said. He’s like that with eating out and movies, too—once he’s into it, he likes to keep going.

“Logan,” based on the comic book character “Wolverine,” is among his latest favorite movies.

Anything else?

Blomeling’s eyes look to the ceiling. His brown hair is uncovered. Not always.

“I’m a big hat guy,” he says. “I’ve got a big collection of hats.”

Batman and the Joker. Classic Mario. Pikachu the Pokémon.

The caps are worn forward, not backward, pointing not to where he’s been, but to where he’s headed.

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Comments (16)

  • This is my younger brother Jaimie..he has worked so hard. I could not be more proud of how great he has done, and what he has done for himself.

  • This brought tears to my eyes. I work on A – Level and see Jaime on a regular basis. He is always so friendly and nice. I say “hello” to him often and am always met with a big smile, but I have always wondered about his story. This is a great article. Thank you for sharing!

  • Jaime’s story is amazing — his journey and his ongoing story are an inspiration to many, many people. Thank you for telling his story and giving my day a little more purpose.

  • Great story! Jaime’s story gives me hope. In the past few years I’ve had two very young great-nieces who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. One, Lauryn, is now cancer free. The other, Olivia, is in the thick of the battle. Thanks for sharing this inspirational story.

    Jaime, keep going! You have a purpose and reason for being! You’re valued and are an inspiration not to just those who’ve read this article, but will be throughout your life.

  • Wow! This is a great story. Very moving and inspirational. Thank you for sharing. Jaime is an amazing young man.

  • Wonderful story. It reflects hard work on the part of Jaime, his family, and all those who supported him.

  • Jaime is a pretty popular guy around Spectrum Butterworth! I agree with all of the prior statements; it is always a pleasure seeing Jaime during the workday. He is never without a smile or a kind gesture. I absolutely love the article statement about Jaime wearing hats, not backwards but forward, to show not where he has been, but where he is going!!!! Strong statement, very moving, a true inspiration. Every time I put on a hat, which I also love wearing hats, I will tell myself the same thing; my hat faces forward to show where I am going, not where I have been!

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