WVU Medicine Children’s Mediathon: Joe Runel’s Story

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – During his fifth trip to Morgantown, Joe Runels and his family got the chance of a lifetime — a tour of the entire WVU Coliseum.

The Runels family : Mom, Dad, three kids and grandparents

He was all smiles as he got to hang out with the Mountaineer, make shots on the basketball court with his brothers, and receive free WVU Basketball apparel, among other things.

“This is very exciting,” Kelly Runels, Joe’s father, said. “One thing is it takes high eyes off what’s happening tomorrow.”

His father is referring to the real reason Runels and his family drove 12.5 hours from Georgia. It was for brain surgery at WVU Medicine Children’s to treat Joe’s intractable epilepsy, which he’s had since he was just two months old. His condition induces seizures that cannot be cured by medication.

Joe and the Mountaineer on the basketball court

Instead, he requires brain surgery. But the problem is for 17-plus years doctors could not pinpoint the exact source of Joe’s seizures.

“But for the first time in 18 years, I had a doctor walk into my hospital room and tell me he knew where the focal point was,” Joe’s Mother, Page Runels, said. “We have been out of the country. We have been all around this country, searching for someone to help our son and we found it here at WVU.”

Runels said she found answers for her son through Dr. Mark Lee, the Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery at WVU Medicine Children’s. She said his demeanor and compassion also made a world of difference.

Joe and the Mountaineer sitting on the sidelines

“Joe just wasn’t another number,” his mom said. “When he walked in he had the biggest smile on his face. And it was — it was surreal. It was overwhelming. I was in the hospital room by myself with just Joe. And Dr. Lee was like ‘you know what, you can hug me, it’s fine’. Because I was overcome with emotion, just relief and amazement.”

Joe then received surgery in June of 2020, but he had to return in early 2021 for another procedure. However, to make the experience less daunting for the Mountaineers fan, WVU Medicine Children’s arranged a tour of the Coliseum.

His parents, especially his mom, said they had no words to describe the appreciation they have for the hospital.

Joe and his family in the WVU Basketball film room

Joe’s father, Kelly, said recently his son has been leading a life of fear because his seizures are triggered right before he sleeps, while he sleeps, and just as he’s about to wake up.

“We think it’s answered prayers and our heart is that we can get a quality of life that he can — resume life itself and not wake up in fear and not go to sleep in fear and that’s what we’re shooting for,” Runels said.

That prayer, for Joe’s health, is one his mom said she also makes.

“We’re looking for a seizure-free life for Joe,” Page Runels said. “And it might not happen tomorrow. I think the biggest thing with Dr. Lee is that he doesn’t quit. He’s going to get to that point where he’s done everything he can to help my son, and that means the world to us. I am confident in knowing that he’s not going to quit until he’s done everything in his power to help my son.”

To have given their son hope is one thing, but to go above and beyond with the tour, Joe’s parents said, was heartwarming.

“Our gratitude is for WVU Hospitals,” Joe’s father said. “And the athletics here have been nothing but a great support for us. Most of all, for our son Joe and our hearts, are overwhelmed, and we’re so appreciative for everyone.”

This kind of world-class service makes Page Runels state that she would recommend WVU Medicine Children’s to any family who thinks they have exhausted their medical options.

“Hands down,” she said. “In fact, I’ve told everybody — because Joes been having seizures since he was two months old, so this has been a long journey. And I’ve told parents in all walks of their journey with their child that if I could help anybody in any way, I would do that. And we’ve got to the point where medication just doesn’t help, and surgery is the only option. So if surgery is the only option for your child, the only place to go is WVU.”

Artist rendering of planned WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital in Morgantown.

If you feel inspired by the lifesaving work at WVU Medicine Children’s to save lives like Joe’s, then please donate to the Children’s Hospital. You can do so online to help support the incredible work underway now and all that will be done once the new Children’s Hospital is complete.

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