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Richard wants a place in history
The blood began trickling out during class. Waiting to get picked up from school, Richard Shields tried to stop his nose from bleeding. After three hours, he found himself in the hospital.
Five years later, Shields, 21, hasn’t been able to reclaim years spent in and out of the hospital, forced to stay home, quit his job and relinquish contact with most of the outside world.
Shields has a condition known as aplastic anemia, meaning he has low counts of red and white blood cells and platelets. The condition became a major hurdle, but he is graduating high school, and that’s what matters to him.
Everything else is just bad luck.
“The procedures, the needles, it all just happens, happening more often than anyone else,” he said. “It’s just life.”
Shields is preparing to graduate from Westside Alternative High School in the Central Kitsap School District.
Because he doesn’t show any physical signs of his condition, most of his peers don’t know what’s wrong with him when they see him, if they see him.
Cuts and bruises could have deadly consequences so Shields spends most of his time at home.
“Unless I start bleeding I wouldn’t even know I was sick,” he said.
Between spending at least six months in the hospital and undergoing numerous surgeries and procedures including two bone marrow biopsies, Shields fell behind in school. At 21 years old, he’s older than his classmates.
For those who watched him struggle to catch up, graduation represents the end of his prime teen years, of which he felt robbed.
“It’s been a long time coming but he’s right on time,” said Shields’ mother Tracee McKinney.
Westside Alternative High School teacher David Neault worked closely with Shields and said he set the bar for his peers when it came to excelling in the classroom.
“With those challenges, that young man is more mature than most adults I see,” Neault said.
Shields credited Neault with keeping him on track in class and pushed him to not settle for anything less than a diploma.
The only known cure for Shields’ condition is a bone marrow transplant. With no full siblings — his five brothers and sisters are half siblings — a perfect match has not been found, McKinney said. He has been on a transplant list since 2005.
Regardless, Shields said he’s focused on his education and making a name for himself.
“I want to be one of those people that fall into history,” he said.
He plans to study architecture at the Seattle Art Institute after finishing core classes at Olympic College.
“College is the next step, I will not, not go to college,” he said. “Even if it’s just to make me happy. I cannot picture myself not going, I’m already here.”