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STEPHEN HEMELT — Jeremy Bell excels despite hardships

When Tanya Bell speaks of her son, Jeremy, she does so with passion and purpose.

The love is evident; the commitment can’t be denied.

Jeremy, 32, graduated in May from Lamar University with a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree. His grades were so impeccable that he earned a magna cum laude designation.

That’s really not that surprising considering Jeremy previously earned an Associate of Applied Science degree from Lamar State College-Port Arthur — snagging summa cum laude honors in the process.

According to Tanya, Jeremy’s goals now are similar to all men in their early 30s. He wants to get married and start a family.

It’s basically the American Dream: work hard in school for success and opportunity later in life.

Yet, there is nothing about Jeremy’s life and struggle that should be considered a dream.

“Jeremy was born a healthy baby,” Tanya said when addressing the Rotary Club of Port Arthur. “There were no signs of any problems at birth. He started crawling and walking at an early age. It wasn’t until about 3 or 4 years old that we noticed Jeremy had difficulty climbing stairs. He was also falling quickly and could not run fast. We knew there was something wrong.”

A pediatrician’s recommendation sent the family to a neurologist in Houston. After several tests, the diagnosis came back. Jeremy had muscular dystrophy.

He lacked a gene that produces a needed protein to help muscles grow and stay intact. Without that, Jeremy’s muscles would deteriorate.

There is no cure. There is no treatment.

Jeremy’s family was told he would be in a wheelchair by 12 and likely wouldn’t survive past his early 20s.

“Just give him a good life,” was the doctor’s instructions.

“We decided from a very young age when Jeremy was first diagnosed that we would not let this disease define our family,” Tanya said. “We were going to make memories and give Jeremy a good life.”

The family turned to its faith, Jeremy tackled life with an athlete’s intensity and they all embraced a one-day-at-a-time mentality.

“I could not be more proud of this young man,” Tanya said this week. “He is a pillar of strength. We are just so proud of him. We just all love him dearly. He is loved by so many people.”

Jeremy and his family dove into a partnership with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), a group that funds research, provides medical and community services and educates health professionals and the general public.

Jeremy was named a goodwill ambassador and regularly attended summer camp and organization functions.

Tanya shared their story during a presentation Thursday. She then turned the microphone over to her son. Jeremy talked of faith, purpose and gratitude.

It was inspiring. There wasn’t anyone in the room who wasn’t captivated.

We should all hope to make our family as proud of us as the Bell family is of Jeremy.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com