Of the more than 800 students who will graduate next week from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), none has overcome obstacles as daunting as those faced by Darin Crumbley.
Crumbley, 40, of Newark, a chemical engineering major, has been a student at NJIT for 20 years - half his life.
While a student he’s had 15 operations. He’s been tethered, for nine years, to a dialysis machine. He’s had seizures that shook him so convulsively that one time, when he woke from the seizure, his shoulder was broken.
“I’ve been on my deathbed so many times,” Crumbley said. “It’s been harrowing.”
Crumbley’s medical woes were born of brotherly love.
In the late 1970s, his older brother, Basim, was diagnosed with Lupus. To live, Basim needed a kidney transplant. Darin donated one of his to Basim. He was 20 at the time, young and healthy, and doctors assured Darin he’d be okay with one kidney; that his chances of his contracting Lupus were minimal.
They were wrong.
Two years later, in 1982, soon after beginning his studies at NJIT, Darin contracted Lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. His one kidney failed him. He had to go on dialysis -- tethered to a machine for five hours a day, every other day, while waiting for a donated kidney.
It would be a long wait.
When he was well enough, he worked nights and took day courses at NJIT. He didn’t tell his professors he was ill. He didn’t want them to hear a “sob story,” Crumbley said, “since they probably hear enough of them.” His professors were encouraging to him, he recalled, but sometimes dialysis weakened him so that near a semester’s end, he’d have to withdraw, start classes again in the fall.
His body is a road map of thick scars and gnarled growths, testimony to his years of dialysis.
“Dialysis is so draining,” he said, rolling up his sleeve to show his scars. “They put huge needles in your arms, one to pull the blood out of you, another to put it back in you. They damage your veins after awhile. I had big tubes sticking out of my neck, tubes in my arteries, a stent put in to keep an artery open. For years I could not attend school. I’d come back when I felt better.”
After seven years of waiting, in 1995 Crumbley got a donated kidney. The transplant operation, performed at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, was a success; he was doing well and attending classes. Then, after two years, that kidney failed. It was back to the purgatory of waiting for a kidney, and back to the drain of dialysis: four hours a day, every other day.
Fortunately, for Darin, the group that oversees in state organ donations - New Jersey Organ and Tissue, The Sharing Network - mandated that kidney donors had priority if they, in turn, needed a kidney. Crumbley went to the head of the kidney-waiting line. He waited two years this time, instead of seven, for a donated kidney. The second transplant operation went well. His health improved so he was able to work nights and attend classes.
Ever since high school, Crumbley wanted to be a chemical engineer. In his high school yearbook, beneath his photo, under life ambition, it reads, “chemical engineer.”
Now, 20 years after entering NJIT, on graduation day, Crumbley will realize his dream. That his dream was mortgaged by a $20,000 student loan does not daunt him. He intends to get a job soon as a chemical engineer and pay off the loan. His eyes are on the prize: a diploma.
“There were so many times,” Crumbley recalled, “when I would start a semester and, due to weakness, have to stop. But now after 20 years, finally, I’m graduating.”
Crumbley’s wife and their five children will attend the ceremony. So will his brother, Basim, 43, who is well now, too. Basim also has a wife and family and lives in New Haven, Conn.
Basim knows that Darin, by giving him a kidney, saved his life.
“Darin gave me a chance to live again,” Basim said. “He gave a part of himself to save me. Words can’t express how I feel about him.”
Basim and Darin were the two youngest in their family of seven children. They have always been close. Till this day, they talk on the phone every day.
Asked how he feels about his Darin graduating, Basim didn’t pause for words: “I wish I had his dedication and drive,” Basim said. “Darin’s story should be an inspiration for people. So many people who are well don’t get college degrees. And look what Darin went through to get his.”