Note: This is the eighth profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.
By Christian Taske ’07
At age 3, Christopher Bastijanic was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor that originates in the brainstem or cerebellum. It’s the region of the brain that plays a crucial role in motor control and is also involved in some cognitive functions such as attention and language. In Bastijanic’s case, the tumor was wrapped around his brainstem. Even though doctors caught it early, they thought he would never walk or talk again.
But Bastijanic proved them wrong. He not only survived the surgery and five years of grueling radiation and chemotherapy; he lived to talk about it; and he maintained most of his motor skills as well as his cognitive functions. Today, Bastijanic is cancer free and a sophomore at Notre Dame College with a 3.7 GPA.
“Physically, I am not very strong, but analytically,” he says. “My strength lies in my ability to think critically and abstractly.”
Majoring in information systems, Bastijanic has put these skills on display in the classroom as he has been on the College’s Dean’s List every semester. He plans to pursue a career working with health data, especially in cancer research, writing programs that are user-friendly so that doctors all over the world can access information more efficiently. He hopes to be employed by health institutions that specialize in health research, like the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals; and he believes Notre Dame is the perfect place to prepare him for this career.
“Notre Dame College’s mission is to educate students for global responsibility,” he says. “My goal fits this mission because I plan to use my profession to facilitate medical research and to improve health administration, locally as well as globally.”
While Bastijanic’s story is an inspiration for people fighting life-threatening illnesses, it also serves as his motivation to pay forward the gift of life he was given as a little boy and to make a difference in the lives of others.
“The experience has taught me the importance of prayer and empathy for the sick,” Bastijanic says, “and has made me a more mature and better human being.”
Over the years, Bastijanic has put that maturity and empathy on display through a variety of volunteer work. Among other things, he works with children at the Chagrin Valley Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center, with whom he shares a keen interest in horseback riding. Once a week, Bastijanic does therapeutic exercises riding a horse. He has fallen off a few times and has even been stepped on, but that doesn’t keep him from getting right back on. After his session, he stays to help out whichever way he can, sweeping the hallways or putting away equipment.
To honor his volunteerism and intellect, the American Cancer Society and the Chardon Rotary Club awarded Bastijanic scholarships for academic achievement and contributions to the community in his senior year at Chardon High School. He still maintains close friendships with many of his former high school teachers and regularly visits them, most recently after the shooting that left three students dead.
At Notre Dame, Bastijanic volunteers several hours a week for the Web Development Team, which maintains and updates the College’s website. He is a regular at most campus events, and he was selected to be a representative for the Academic Support Center on the Undergraduate Student Government advisory council. He also participates in the ASC mentoring program, which aims to ease the transition from high school to college for freshmen with learning differences.
Bastijanic, who was recently inducted in the Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society for students with disabilities, says the Academic Support Center was one of the main reasons he chose NDC.
“Notre Dame is one of the few colleges that through its Academic Support Center strives to encourage personal responsibility,” Bastijanic said. “It is a place where students learn the techniques and the importance of time management for success in school, as well as for the rest of their lives.”
Gretchen Walsh, the director of the Academic Support Center, says Bastijanic is an inspiration for others.
“Chris is a strong, determined individual who is not afraid of a challenge,” Walsh says. “His maturity and empathy are seldom found in one so young.”
In February, Bastijanic was named Notre Dame College’s Student of the Month for overcoming adversity, academic achievement and integrity.
Estamarie Fairchild, assistant professor of management and information systems, nominated Bastijanic for the award.
“It takes an enormous amount of courage and self-determination to endure treatments, doctors and lengthy hospital stays,” Fairchild says. “Chris fought through and survived. And through his courageous fight Chris continued to make his education a priority in his life. He maintained a high level of academic achievement during high school and continues to excel academically at NDC.”
Fairchild says she is particularly impressed with Bastijanic’s empathy for others, especially for the sick.
“On campus, Chris will assist another student without hesitation,” she says. “I have seen him give up his free time – hours – to help out another student; and he does it without wanting anything in return. He gives because it’s in his heart.”
Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame College.