By Kim Corriher
Pedro Kayser no doubt will have the youngest admirer in the audience at Ohio University's commencement ceremony for master's and doctoral degree candidates Friday morning.
Rafael Palhares Bittencourt Kayser, newborn son of Kayser and his wife, Gabriela, was due to arrive on the first-time dad’s graduation day. Instead, he made an early entrance on Sunday, weighing in at 8 pounds, 3.4 ounces.
For Kayser, who will earn master's degree in Latin American studies, complemented by minors in economics and international trade, the past two years have meant long nights of studying, a seemingly endless stream of work and the need to sacrifice time with friends and family.
Making the decision to move from their home in Brazil to Athens was a difficult one for the newly married couple. "We had no idea that we would miss our home country so much," said Kayser, 31. "It was a tough transition for us. We had no family, no friends, and my wife didn't speak the language at all."
But those were challenges the two anticipated. What came next was impossible to predict.
In April 2007, Kayser began to experience headaches. Very quickly, the pain became debilitating, preventing him from studying or attending classes and even affecting his ability to stand and sit upright. An initial diagnoses of stress and too little light when studying was followed by a meeting with a neurologist, who informed Kayser he had a large brain tumor.
"It was like my world came down when they told me," he said.
Doctors determined that the tumor was benign, but they insisted upon removing it immediately because of its proximity to his cerebellum. "I had to stop school -- I had to stop everything -- and Gabriela and I went to Columbus," Kayser said.
The first surgery was successful, but after several days in recovery, doctors had to operate again, this time to remove a pulmonary embolism a blood clot had caused at the base of his lungs.
"It was a very difficult time for us," Gabriela recalled. "When we were in Brazil, Pedro was healthy, always healthy. When we came here, this happened, and I was so alone. I didn't know what to do, who to ask, what to say to the doctors."
Not wanting to take chances, the Kaysers remained in Columbus after his 17-day hospitalization to be near Pedro's doctors.
"There was just something that told us to stay," Kayser said. "It was just a feeling."
Less than a week later, the headaches returned. He had another brain tumor.
After another surgery, eight more days in the hospital and two weeks in a Columbus hotel, Kayser was cleared to return to Athens and his coursework.
Come fall, he faced the daunting task of making up an entire quarter of classes to get back on track.
"That was one of the hardest parts. I was supposed to rest, I was supposed to take care of myself, but I had to make up my work," Kayser said. "It was hard, but I knew that I had been given a new chance with life. I knew that I had to 'make the most of it,' as they say."
The couple believes strongly that faith played a role in Kayser's successful recovery, and that his health now is a sign of good things to come.
While the couple will return to Brazil in July for Kayser to begin work with Magnesita, a steel company in his home state of Minas Gerais, Athens and Ohio University will forever remain a reminder of the gifts of life that come from perseverance and faith.
"This is such a special place for us," Kayser said. "I will tell my son often about this place, and I hope that one day, I will see him come here and study and see for himself what is possible."
Updated at 8:25 a.m. June 12, 2008, to reflect the early arrival of the Kaysers' son.