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home : features : people of faith

6/6/2013 9:01:00 AM
COLLEGE LIFE
Siena student aims high despite illness
Nathan at his high school graduation and in his hospital room before a surgery. Donate to the Nathan Natale Fund for the familyís medical costs at any First Niagara Bank or mail checks to First Niagara, Attn: Amber Hensley, 767 New Loudon Rd., Latham, NY 12110. Friends have sold 500 beaded bracelets to raise funds; parishes and schools have held barbecues. Costs during Nathanís first year of illness alone added up to more than $26,000.
Nathan at his high school graduation and in his hospital room before a surgery. Donate to the Nathan Natale Fund for the familyís medical costs at any First Niagara Bank or mail checks to First Niagara, Attn: Amber Hensley, 767 New Loudon Rd., Latham, NY 12110. Friends have sold 500 beaded bracelets to raise funds; parishes and schools have held barbecues. Costs during Nathanís first year of illness alone added up to more than $26,000.
BY ANGELA CAVE
STAFF WRITER

"The Lord never gives us more than we can handle" is both a reassurance and a running joke for the family of 20-year-old Nathan Natale. The sophomore at Siena College in Loudonville has spent six years in and out of hospitals, undergoing more than 20 surgeries and dealing with dialysis and feeding tubes.

Nathan was reportedly the first person in the world to survive multiple system organ failure. He is only the 22nd U.S. recipient of a dual intestinal and kidney transplant. Now, he's in end-stage renal failure, so his life expectancy is uncertain and he may need further transplants periodically for the rest of his life.

The ordeal has been a strain on the family financially and emotionally, especially when Nathan travels to Boston Children's Hospital for treatment. The Natales have been flooded with support from their parish, St. Pius X in Loudonville, and from congregations of all faiths across the country. Strangers have visited Nathan, thousands of people have written notes and neighbors have done housework for the family.

His parents lean on the family motto, "Keeping the faith," to maintain a positive outlook.

Prayer life
"It's like that song, 'We Walk by Faith,'" said Nathan's mother, Nancy. "It's everything for us. Prayer is a big part of why he's still here, and the doctors have said so."

"It's overpowering that there are so many people praying," Nathan confirmed. "Somehow I get the strength to get through the day. I try not to dwell too much on what's happening, because I would end up collapsing under all the pressure. Sometimes I'm like, 'Lord, could you lift this just a little here?'"

But he's learned that "if you're constantly mad all the time, you quickly run out of energy to do other things."

Nathan was a high school freshman in 2008 when abdominal pain sent him to the emergency room. When the nurse asked him to rate his discomfort on a scale of one to 10, he said, "I remember shouting, '11!'"

His appendix had ruptured. Complications triggered failure of Nathan's lungs, heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, adrenal gland, stomach and intestines. He was hospitalized for nine months and comatose for three weeks.

When he awoke, "the first words out of his mouth [were], 'How am I going to make up three weeks of school?'" Mrs. Natale recalled. "There was no way to grasp the intensity of it at first."

New routine
Catholics brought Nathan communion in his hospital room and prepared him for confirmation. He was tutored in hospitals and then at home while acclimating to occupational and physical therapy, dialysis three times a week and trips to Boston.

But Nathan kept up with advanced classes and scored 100 on his biology Regents exam. He returned to Shaker High School for his junior year using a wheelchair, graduating in the top five percent of his class despite two more hospital stints. He served as class treasurer, sang in chorus, attended proms and spoke at events to raise awareness about kidney disease.

"It kept his mind off thinking about how sick he was and how different he was from other people," Mrs. Natale said.

During his freshman year at Siena, Nathan earned the highest chemistry GPA in his major and also became the first college dormitory resident in the state to perform home hemodialysis. Many people sleep through this process, which lowers blood pressure, but he refers to it as "three hours of built-in study time."

Forging ahead
Nathan has interned at a local veterinary hospital, looking toward a future career. He took time off from college in January for his transplant surgery and will spend the summer convalescing. Scholarships are completely covering his sophomore year.

Mrs. Natale and her husband, Nick, believe in the words of the Serenity Prayer; they sometimes feel helpless, but never hopeless.

"I still believe in a benevolent God," Mrs. Natale said. "Any outcome that there is, we're just going to be able to do it with God's help. It helps to calm our fears."

Nathan's attitude also helps: "People sense something in him - like, 'Wow, how can he have this calmness?' Sometimes we get so down and then we're like, 'Wait a minute! We're not the ones who are sick!'"

Nathan admitted his enforced maturity can make it "difficult to connect with my peers. They're still in that invincibility mode. Some of their cares or worries - it's just like, 'Really? That seems really frivolous or pointless.'"





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