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Youth basketball coach overcomes brain tumor

Vaughn Atkins

Vaughn Atkins

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Updated: February 4, 2013 6:59AM

This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our communities in 2012.

SOUTH ELGIN — Just nine months after Vaughn Atkins was diagnosed with and treated for a potentially fatal brain tumor, the 40-year-old South Elgin father is back doing what he loves — coaching youth basketball.

As he looks forward to 2013, he said he’s thankful for his faith and family — along with the “exceptional” health care providers that steered him to a swift recovery.

“I’ve been feeling great,” said Atkins, who recently completed two months of radiation at Elgin’s Sherman Hospital, five days a week, as a follow-up to neurosurgery performed at University of Chicago Medicine last spring.

“It was somewhat unsettling at first to have a mask over my face and then to be strapped to a table in a dark room, but (the radiation specialists) did a good job putting me at ease.”

With that behind him, Atkins has returned to coaching youth basketball. In fact, he said it was his love for that role that inspired him to leave the hospital much sooner than anticipated after surgery. Just one week after the procedure, he was back coaching at his son Logan’s AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball tournament, his wife Jessica said.

The health care teams at Sherman Hospital and University of Chicago Medicine both were invaluable to her husband’s recovery and the way they couple’s children coped with the challenge, she added.

“We had a great group of doctors,” Jessica said. “We kept our kids involved through the whole process, during the surgery, and the radiation, so they always knew what was going on.”

Family involvement is a priority for Atkins, who coaches his son in Illinois Voltage basketball, and volunteers to coach his daughter’s fourth-grade team at The Centre of Elgin, where he has volunteered for eight years. He’s also coaching a South Elgin feeder team, a group of high school basketball hopefuls getting ready for that stage of competition.

While Atkins enjoys the fact that his radiation is over, he still faces some unknowns.

“I go back in six months for an MRI, to find out (if any remaining cancer cells are present),” he said. “From what I was told (by the doctors), they have high confidence that everything went well.”

Surgeons strived to remove 99 percent of his tumor during his procedure, Atkins said, and the radiation targeted the residual cells.

Atkins said facing the tumor, and then surgery and radiation, was both emotionally and physically challenging.

“I put on a brave face for people (at times), but on the inside it was all new and uncertain,” he said.

Jessica said the past year was one for gratitude and that the family’s strong religious faith gave them strength when the medical uncertainties could have been overwhelming.

“As a family, we’re just thankful that Vaughn is still here,” she said. “You don’t realize how precious life is until you’re that close to losing someone.”

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