2 Albion grads finished senior year helping their mothers fight serious health battles

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 July 2020 at 11:10 am

Omar Peterson, Damian Wilson care for their moms and give them lots of emotional support

Photo by Tom Rivers: Omar Peterson and his mother Angela English are pictured last week at their home in Albion. English is fighting stage 4 cervical cancer.

Provided photo: Damian Wilson celebrates his graduation with his parents, Chad and Lisa.

ALBION – Omar Peterson and Damian Wilson, members of Albion’s Class of 2020, say their senior year has been emotional and gut-wrenching.

But not because of the Covid-19 pandemic that has kept students out of local schools since March 13.

Omar and Damian both have mothers in serious health battles. Damian’s mom, Lisa Wilson, suffered a series of strokes. Angela English, Omar’s mom, has stage 4 cervical cancer.

Omar and Damian have both needed to do more around the house to help their families. They have cared for their mothers, maintained jobs and kept up with their school work.

Both are headed to college this fall. Damian will stay home and go to Genesee Community College. Omar will be off to Morrisville State College.

A son’s encouragement

Angela English, 36, was diagnosed with cancer on Dec. 27. She started chemotherapy in January and will finish in August.

Omar, 17, said school has often been a struggle. He wanted to give up this year, especially in the winter when his mother started chemo. But he knew that would just add to her stress.

“I told myself that I had to get through and finish,” he said.

He graduated in a personalized ceremony with his family at the school last month. Albion did individual ceremonies for all 135 members of the class.

Angela is thankful the school did it that way. She wouldn’t have wanted to be in the high school gym with 2,000 other people for graduation, like the school normally does. She worries about her compromised immune system right now. (The state set a 150-person maximum for outdoor graduation ceremonies. Social gatherings inside were limited to 25 people.)

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept Omar and his sister Olivia, 11, home from school since March 13. Olivia has been cooking many of the meals for the family. Omar said his little sister has amazed me with the meals. She recently made shrimp teriyaki that Omar raves about.

Omar and Olivia keep a close eye on their mother, making sure she takes her medications and they give her a steady stream of encouragement.

“You have to keep a positive attitude,” Omar said. “We have to push each other.”

Provided photo: Angela English celebrates with her son Omar after his personalized graduation ceremony. Angela considered wearing a wig or a fancy hat for the ceremony, but Omar told her not to. “Wear your bald head because you’re beautiful,” he told his mother.

Omar said he tries to keep his mother upbeat. When her hair started to fall out and she shaved her head in February, Omar also went bald, getting rid of his beloved dreadlocks.

Angela wept when her son cut off all of his hair.

“That was a sign that we would be going through this journey together,” she said.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Omar Peterson played goalie and was a captain on the varsity soccer team.

Omar tells his mother she’s beautiful. He tells her she will get better, and there are only a few more chemo treatments to go. (During her chemo, Omar will often Facetime his mother with a positive message: “You’re almost done. You’re getting better.”)

He has come by his mother’s bedside to pray with her.

Angela has watched a transformation of her son in the past six months.

“When he came by my bedside and prayed, that’s when I realized I have a growing son,” Angela said.

Angela’s parents, Eddie and Rose English, are the leaders of The Lord’s House church in Waterport. Angela is the praise and worship leader at the church. She also works as the staffing and payroll coordinator at The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing in Batavia.

“I couldn’t ask for a better support system with the community reaching out,” Angela said. “Their prayers are working.”

Omar was the goalie on the soccer team, a vocal leader with no fear on the field. He also has been on the swimming and track teams, and been involved with school musicals, the marching band and select choirs.

He currently works at Kirby Farms. He called them up asking for a job in March. He previously worked as a dishwasher for Tillman’s Village Inn. Working on a farm has been a great experience, Omar said.

It’s hard work, and it’s technical with operating a tractor and caring for the fruit trees and crops.

“I like being outside and it’s made me appreciate being on this beautiful planet,” Omar said. “But farming is way more work than you think.”

He plans to major in mechanical technology at Morrisville. He wants to run his own business and be a mentor to others when he’s older.

His mother’s illness has forced him to grow up faster.

“I definitely appreciate life more,” he said. “It’s made me open my eyes. I try to be positive and talk about the things in my future.”

Omar also wanted to thank the community for adopting members of the senior class, giving them presents and gifts during the pandemic. He received some of his favorite snacks, gift cards, cookies and a jersey from his favorite soccer team, Manchester City. One of gifts was a graphing calculator that he will need in college.

“Those gifts make me want to come back and give back to the community,” he said.

Mother’s work ethic in recovery inspires son

Chad Wilson adjusts his son Damian’s graduation cap during a ceremony at their home last month. Lisa Wilson was part of the graduation for her son.

Damian Wilson, 18, also has had more on his mind this senior year than his school work and the pandemic.

His mother suffered a serious stroke on Nov. 6. She was in the ICU for a month after that and remained hospitalized and then at a rehab center until June 3.

Because of restrictions on visitors at healthcare facilities, Damian wasn’t able to see his mother in person for nearly three months.

The two would video chat three or four times a day.

Lisa has made progress since her initial stroke. She has physical, occupational and speech therapy as she works to recover and retrain her brain and body.

Lisa, 44, has worked in banking for more than two decades years. She was at ESL in Rochester after working about 20 years in Albion at the site that has been Dime Bank, Washington Mutual, Chase and CRFS.

She was organized and a take-charge leader in the family.

Her husband Chad said Damian and his younger brother Drake have stepped up since their mother was strickened by a series of strokes. Damian makes breakfast for the family and Drake makes lunch. Drake just finished eighth grade.

Chad, who is an IT specialist, makes dinner. He has been able to work from home, turning the basement into his work space.

They all pitch in with Lisa’s care.

Damian said his mother’s courage inspires him. She pushes herself in her therapies. Her right side is the most effected by the strokes.

“She is strong-willed and stubborn,” Chad said about Lisa.

Those characteristics are helping her now, during what can be exhausting physical and speech therapy sessions.

Doctors initially weren’t optimistic she would recover. Lisa didn’t wake up from a coma for 4 ½ weeks.

Her husband brought their puppy, Nico, to the hospital. Nico is white boxer. He gave Lisa a kiss and she moved her head for the first time since her stroke.

Chad put her left hand on the dog and she started petting Nico.

The family brought their two other boxers, Rocky and Kenna, to the hospital in the weeks that followed and Lisa responded to the dogs. Chad would bring one of the three dogs to the hospital and the dog would lay in bed with Lisa.

This photo from Sept. 22, 2018 shows Lisa Wilson, left, with her son Damian. They are joined by Myleigh Miller. They volunteered at the front table of a benefit for kindergarten teacher Angie Wolfe, who was battling cancer. The spaghetti dinner benefit and basket raffle for Wolfe was at the Albion Elks Lodge. Lisa Wilson and Angie Wolfe have been friends since they were kids.

Damian, an honor roll student, has worked the past two years at Walgreens. He pursued the job on his own when he was 16.

Damian said he initially wanted some extra money when he started the position. He enjoys his co-workers at the store.

He excelled in the graphic design program at the Orleans-Niagara BOCES, and was selected for the prestigious National Technical Honor Society.

He said he missed seeing his teachers and classmates every day in person during the pandemic.

“I just like talking to them,” he said.

He will get a degree in general studies from GCC and then transfer to a four-year college.

The Wilsons appreciated the school district coming to their home for Damian’s graduation ceremony. It would have been much harder to get to the school due to Lisa’s current mobility issues. She is working hard to regain her balance and ability to walk.

Lisa said the school coming to their home to present the diploma to Damian, “was very inspirational.”

Damian Wilson accepts his diploma from Albion school officials who came to his home last month. He is pictured with, from left: Kathy Winans, the class advisor; Michael Bonnewell, district superintendent; Kathy Harling, Board of Education president; and Jennifer Ashbery, high school principal.

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