Principal of St John the Baptist's College in Portadown praises teenager's positivity after being diagnosed with a brain tumour on his 16th birthday

The mum of a Co Armagh teenager who achieved eight impressive GCSE grades in the same year as he underwent life-changing emergency surgery for a brain tumour said the day they received his exam results in August was “the happiest moment” of her life.
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Joel McGarry joined St John the Baptist’s College in Portadown in September of 2018 and was a happy and very active pupil who enjoyed all aspects of school life and particularly sport.

However, his life changed forever in August 2019 after he took a seizure and began to have difficulties with concentration and headaches. On July 25, 2022 – his 16th birthday - he was informed he had a brain tumour.

Joel was advised that he was at risk of losing his mobility and had emergency life-changing surgery on his brain in September 2022, the same year he was to undertake his GCSE exams.

Joel McGarry and his mum Leona on GCSE results day. Picture: St John the Baptist’s CollegeJoel McGarry and his mum Leona on GCSE results day. Picture: St John the Baptist’s College
Joel McGarry and his mum Leona on GCSE results day. Picture: St John the Baptist’s College

Joel’s mum Leona McGarry recalls the moment he woke from surgery, saying: “I am alive”.

The brave teenager’s positivity and smiles have prevailed throughout his journey and he has since undergone many tests to ascertain the route of his tumour, eventually being diagnosed with Ganglioglioma, a very rare type.

Despite his diagnosis, Joel persevered with his studies as much as possible but couldn’t play sport which was a major blow for him.

Noella Murray, principal of St John the Baptist’s College, described Joel as a pupil who stands out among the Class of 2023, having overcome extreme adversity and against all the odds to achieve eight strong GCSE qualifications.

Joel McGarry is a keen sports player. Picture: Paul McErlaneJoel McGarry is a keen sports player. Picture: Paul McErlane
Joel McGarry is a keen sports player. Picture: Paul McErlane

Mum Leona said: “The principal and staff of St John the Baptist’s College have helped us so much, they were so supportive all the way through, and I remain so thankful to them all for calling to our house, the prayers they said and for the many phone calls offering support. We could have not got through it without them.

"I had the happiest moment of my life collecting Joel’s GCSE results in August. I haven’t stopped smiling since.

"Credit must go to the staff who have given Joel their time and care to help achieve these fantastic results. No words of thanks are enough. All the staff are exceptional in what they do not only in relation to teaching but moreover in terms of pastoral care. I commend the great connections the college has with the pupils and their families.

"We are very lucky, as a community, to have this amazing school. St John the Baptist’s College are like a family, and we will always remember what each and every one of the staff did for us.”

Joel McGarry at the school formal just months after his brain surgery. Picture: St John the Baptist’s CollegeJoel McGarry at the school formal just months after his brain surgery. Picture: St John the Baptist’s College
Joel McGarry at the school formal just months after his brain surgery. Picture: St John the Baptist’s College

Joel has now started the next stage of his educational journey having secured a prestigious apprenticeship with the Deluxe Group. He also recently captained the Tír na nÓg boys football team once more and they continue to enjoy ongoing success.

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Top marks for GCSE pupils St John the Baptist's College in Portadown

Mrs Murray said that they are delighted to see Joel following his chosen career pathway and the fact that he can now play sport again means that this young man is following his passion and using all of his talents to the full once more.

She said the staff believe Joel is a “true role model for all pupils” within the college and they wish him all the best for his future.

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