Cancer survivor treated at St. Jude graduates valedictorian, headed to college this Fall

Updated: Jul. 16, 2020 at 5:43 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Tickets are now available to win this year’s St. Jude Dream Home in Waxhaw!

You can call (800) 592-1602 or go to

The purchase of a ticket is contributing to the hope of the future for children with pediatric cancer, children like John Hagen from right here in Charlotte.

In a 2014 interview recorded at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, John was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“An architect,” said the then 14-year-old. “I love math geometry is my favorite subject.”

John was nearing the end of treatments after fighting T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for more than two years.

John’s dad Rich was also interviewed in the story back in 2014.

Cancer survivor treated at St. Jude graduates valedictorian, headed to college this Fall
Cancer survivor treated at St. Jude graduates valedictorian, headed to college this Fall(WBTV)

“My hope for John’s future is that he gets back to being a normal kid, and he’s on his way,” said Rich at the time.

It was not long after that video that John’s cancer came back.

Doctors said he would need a0 stem-cell transplant, and with multiple organs failing time was running out. Researchers at St. Jude approved mom Kathy, a partial-match to be his stem-cell donor.

“Things were so bad that we were really living minute-to-minute,” said Kathy as we recently spoke to her about the journey.

Cancer survivor treated at St. Jude graduates valedictorian, headed to college this Fall
Cancer survivor treated at St. Jude graduates valedictorian, headed to college this Fall(AJB Photography Monroe, NC | WBTV)

Kathy’s stem-cells ultimately cured John’s cancer, but by February of 2015, the side effects of his treatment left John in acute respiratory failure and with complete paralysis-- a syndrome called Guillian Barre.

“It was actually five years ago this summer that we were planning John’s funeral,” said Kathy. “I think there came a point for us where they had thrown everything they possibly could at John, and he wasn’t responding.”

Heartbroken, Kathy, Rich and sister Isabella stood alongside John for three and a half months as doctors at St. Jude treated him in the ICU.

“All I said I just want to see a little bit of John and we did eventually we did. It took a long time-- but we did,” said Kathy.

Kathy described John’s comeback as a miracle. It took more than a year for John to regain his independence, but eventually, he was walking again. Now almost 5 years later, he’s thriving.

“We have a John who just graduated over the weekend from high school—valedictorian-- which was pretty remarkable,” said Rich.

John says he emailed that news to his favorite doctor at St. Jude, Dr. Pui. Their close relationship was captured on video in John’s initial story.

“I got a response within three minutes from him and he said, ‘Congratulations!’” said John. “He’s a fantastic person, and I wouldn’t be here without him.”

That sentiment is shared by John’s dad.

“John would not be sitting next to me if we didn’t have St. Jude,” said Rich. “His case was so difficult he would not be here with us today.”

The Hagens moved from Charlotte to Kiawah Island, South Carolina a little more than a year ago.

“He will be entering as a college freshman going to Furman in the fall. He’s an avid golf player, he has a girlfriend,” added Rich, as he shared how the now 19-year-old is embracing life.

Remember John’s dream of becoming an architect?

“So I changed that up,” said John. “After my journey at St. Jude I really wanted to study medicine, so I’m going to study biology.”

John hopes one day maybe he’ll be working under his hero Dr. Pui. For now, the entire Hagen family continues their efforts to raise money and awareness for the hospital that changed their lives and so many others.

“John’s here because of the generous donations whether it be a $100 ticket for the dream home or other fundraising methods,” said Rich. “For John and all the other kids that get that cancer diagnosis St. Jude is a place of hope and healing and cure. A few dollars would go a long way in saving John’s life.”

After watching the doctors and nurses at St. Jude treat John at St. Jude, John’s sister Isabella is now studying nursing in college. She’s a rising senior, and Kathy says she’s hoping to apply to become a nurse at St. Jude next year.

If you want to contribute to that hope and healing offered at St. Jude now is your chance. Tickets to win this year’s St. Jude Dream Home are $100. You’ll also be entered to win several other incredible prizes. Call (800) 592-1602 or go to now.

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