Powers resigns to take care of health and family

PAT FRIDGEN
Ron Powers has resigned as assistant principal at Greencastle-Antrim High School due to a rare disease. While he takes care of himself, he is also more than happy to take over supper duties, as he enjoys cooking more than someone else in his family.

"I'm not dying."

That's the first thing Ron Powers wants people to know. An assistant principal at Greencastle-Antrim High School, he is retiring June 30, but because of accumulated leave time, his last day of work was April 16.

Four years ago Powers was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. This is the same disease that was found in former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabar in December. It is fairly rare, affecting 4,000 people a year. With CML, the body produces too many white blood cells, which allows bone marrow to be replaced by malignant leukemia cells. The hallmark of the condition is a mutation resulting in the Philadelphia chromosome, which has a cancer-causing gene.

Powers, 54, has been able to keep his blood count numbers in line with a new chemotherapy pill called Gleevec.

"As long as I don't become immune to the drug I'll be ok," he said.

He had hoped to quietly slip out of the school system, skipping any fanfare over his condition. However, he and his wife Beth, a middle school Language Arts teacher, discussed his situation at length and decided it was appropriate to tell the public what was going on to dispel rumors. Powers, an advisor to the sophomore class, sent a letter to all his students and their parents. He explained that he had a disease which would never go away and could never be cured. He wanted to devote more time to his family. He referred them to Kevin Carley, another assistant principal, who would take care of their needs.

A different life

Powers is no stranger to critical health issues. In the 1990s he took three and a half years off work due to Sarcoidosis. The condition affected his lungs so he had difficulty breathing.

"I wasn't supposed to ever return to work, but I did," he said. "Five months after I was declared free of Sarcoidosis, I got this."

The CML isn't affecting him as much as the side affects of the chemo and a blood thinner. He has had two blood clots in two years and now is prone to bleeding from minor injuries, and also has ongoing pain. He doesn't have the energy and focus of previous years. Dealing with the illness emotionally is difficult.

"It's kind of selfish, but I'm jealous of those who have the kind of leukemia that can be cured through bone marrow transplants."

Powers is not eligible for a transplant because the survival rate for CML patients is only 50 percent.

He initally saw physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital and now confers with Dr. Kevin Lorentzen in Chambersburg, as well as a host of other specialists.

Powers has had two careers, first in the construction industry, and then in education. A native of Jersey Shore, he graduated from Lycoming College with a B.S. in biology, and began teaching at G-AHS in 1993. He then became a Dean of Students, and finally Assistant Principal, working with an emergency certificate. He has one class left at Shippensburg University to earn his master's degree.

"I think I'll try to finish that up," he said.

Looking back at his school days, his fondest memory is of a biology class creating the wetlands between the elementary school and Tayamentasachta. His students transformed a literal hole in the ground into a wildlife sanctuary. They designed it through surveying, mapping topography, researching plants and ponds, and recruiting their peers in a manufacturing class to build the bridge. Today the site is a natural walkway to the environmental center.

Powers remembered more. "I must have gone on class trips to Orlando five times. They were always fun."

Now his schedule allows more freedom to follow his kids around. Ben, 17, Lauren, 14, Annie, 12, and Sam, 10, are active as are all youth these days. And Powers has another goal.

"I hope to find a less stressful job. Because believe it or not, being an assistant principal can be stressful."