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.
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.
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.
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.