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February 3, 2003

Marine fights for life after recruit training

MARINE CORPS RECRUITING SUBSTATION WORCESTER, MA — His expression was a perfect 50/50 split -- half shock and half excitement as his Parris Island drill instructor entered his home and presented him with a new set of Dress Blue's, February 3.



House calls are not commonplace in the Marine Corps, but for someone with as much heart and dedication as Pvt. Timothy Arathuzik, an exception was made.

The dress uniform was a token of appreciation from Arathuzik's training regiment, the battalion and his company. A joint effort was made from the Marines he served with to make him an honorary "honor graduate" of the platoon.

Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Yantosca, Parris Island drill instructor, admits that while most people in his platoon were giving 110 percent during recruit training, Arathuzik was putting in 175.

During his second week of training, Arathuzik began having severe headaches that were causing some difficulty during training. He went to the base doctor who diagnosed him with a severe sinus infection and returned him to his platoon.

Several days after taking medication for the infection and experiencing no ease from the headaches, Arathuzik decided to continue through the training despite his pain.

At night, the pain would become so severe, he had to elevate his head with his pack, to ease the pressure.

In the morning, Arathuzik would often awake with dizzy spells that would last throughout a good part of the day. His determination, however, would not allow him to quit. He wanted to become a Marine his entire life and nothing was going to stand in the way of his dream.

As training progressed, Arathuzik continued to march forward despite the increasing severity of his pain. He participated in everything from martial arts training to the gas chamber without hesitation, because he wanted to become a Marine.

It was not until the rifle range that Arathuzik hit a major stumbling block. He wrote to his parents, telling them that he was having a more-than-difficult time on the range and he would explain when he returned home.

During qualification day on the range, he was unable to get the minimum score needed to advance to the next stage of training. He was then put through a remedial class and he eventually passed, but with great difficulty.

He later told his parents that his problem was not due to lack of trying or instruction on the range. His difficulty was the direct result of blurred vision, dizziness and increasing head pain each and every time he pulled the trigger.

Just before going to the final stage of recruit training known as the Crucible, one of Arathuzik drill instructors noticed the entire area around his right eye was swollen. Arathuzik explained that he believed the problem was a reoccurring bruise from when he was beaten up and mugged in college. The swelling was in the same spot, causing the same pain and he would be all right if they would just allow him to continue with training.

The drill instructors forced Arathuzik to go to the medical battalion despite his desire to finish the last week of training. Arathuzik was then referred to a hospital where they finally found the cause of his illness ... he had a tennis ball-sized cancerous tumor forming in his sinuses that was pushing into the frontal lobes of his brain.

When Arathuzik heard the news he said he wanted to vomit. He could not believe this was happening, and he could not believe they were not going to allow him to finish the final week of training.

"It was hard, because I had headaches really bad," admits Arathuzik after recruit training. "It would have been a lot better if I didn't have cancer. I wanted to graduate and I wanted to become a Marine."

Despite the fact that Arathuzik did not complete the final week of training, he was retired as a Marine with 100 percent disability because he was on active duty when he entered recruit training.

"All he had left to do was to take his final physical fitness test, the practical application and the Crucible," said Yantosca. "He would have been perfectly capable of doing all that stuff. He was physically fit, he had no problems going on the hikes and he would have no problem with the practical application. As drill instructors we know what the recruits are capable of and he was incredibly capable of qualifying in all those things.

"He was putting forth more than 100 percent; having headaches everyday and what he was going through inside his body. He was probably giving 150 or 175 percent of himself every single day. Some guys can't do it with nothing wrong with them. They never make it through training. He made it through and look how he made it through."

Not long after the diagnosis, Arathuzik was sent to a Washington D.C. hospital to have surgery and begin treatment of the tumor. It was during this time Arathuzik fell into a coma. Doctors did not give his family much hope of recovery and Arathuzik was read his last rights, two times.

But, the same never-quit attitude that allowed him to progress through recruit training, also allowed him to recover from the coma.

"He's always been a tough kid," said Paul Arathuzik, Timothy's father. "He has always liked the discipline. He played football and he thought the coaches weren't tough enough."

"My hat is off to him for going on and pushing himself having the headaches he was having," said Yantosca. "Some kids would have tapped out ... even though he didn't finish the last week of training, he has what the Marine Corps wants in his heart."

Today, Arathuzik is at a halfway point for his cancer treatment. The cancer has taken away most of his hearing and vision in one eye. But, if the past serves any insight to the future, this determined Marine will overcome this obstacle just as he overcame recruit training and win the hardest battle of his life.