FAIRFIELD — Two months ago Joe Seigars was at his son’s bedside as he battled multi-organ failure as a complication of his diagnosis of leukemia, not knowing whether the boy would survive.

He was spending as much time as possible at the hospital in Portland while also driving three times per week to his clinical rotations at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan and working toward an associate degree in radiologic technology at Kennebec Valley Community College.

“It was hard trying to fit all that in and also be there for Jacob during his treatment,” said Seigars, who is also the father of four other children.

The 35-year-old Palermo resident said, though, that watching his 14-year-old son motivated him and kept him intent on making a better life for his family through earning his degree.

On Saturday, Seigars will join about 300 other students in graduating from KVCC at the Augusta Civic Center.

The road to graduation hasn’t been easy for Seigars, who worked as a mortgage loan officer before suffering a minor stroke in 2011. His doctor diagnosed him with sleep apnea and told him he should think about changing jobs and doing something less stressful.

Seigars, who attended the University of Maine, in Orono, after high school but never graduated, decided to go back to school and originally enrolled in KVCC’s paramedic program.

But after spending time in hospitals, he decided they might be a better fit than the ambulance.

“Radiology kind of stood out to me because without that technology, I could have had a lot worse outcome with my own medical issues,” he said. “I got into it and really loved the program.”

In January 2018 his second-oldest child, Jacob, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

For the first six months of the diagnosis, Jacob “pretty much had to live at the hospital,” Seigars said, and he was driving back and forth from Skowhegan three days per week and to Fairfield once per week for classes.

And although he had the help of his ex-wife, Jacob’s mother, and his wife, Nastassja, things were still difficult.

“He had to take a lot of time off because he didn’t want to leave my side,” said Jacob, whose condition has improved vastly and who is now in remission. “The doctors were telling him, ‘You should probably spend time with your son before he passes away.'”

Luckily, Seigars said, his instructors at KVCC were accommodating and allowed him to attend class sometimes via Facetime or Skype.

“He was tired, but he really kept up with his studies and he communicated very well about what he needed and when he would be out,” said Betsy Priest, chairwoman of the radiologic technology program at KVCC. “He didn’t want to fall behind. That was important to him.”

Seigars said his advice to other students who are struggling would be to not give up and stay positive — a lesson he learned while watching his son.

“I was thinking, ‘If he can do this and this is so hard on him, I can suck it up a little bit,'” Seigars said. “If he can do that, I can work through it and maybe complain a little less about where I’m at. He’s been a big inspiration for me.”

After taking his board examinations and getting licensed, Seigars said he is hoping to find work in a local hospital.

He also credits part of his success to the federal Ticket To Work program, which helps Social Security beneficiaries get work and become financially independent.

“I don’t want to live off the system,” Seigars said. “I want to go back to work and be a productive member of society. I want to make a better life for me and my family.”

 


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