Hockey player, brain tumor survivor turns to nursing to give back

UMMS student’s inspirational journey featured in Boston Globe

By Lisa M. Larson and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

September 16, 2013

Brain tumor survivor James Ennis won’t waste a moment of his “second chance.”

Diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at age 13, the UMass Boston graduate and captain of its 2012 hockey team came full circle Sept. 16 when he accepted his Registered Nurse pin alongside classmates in the Graduate School of Nursing at UMass Medical School.

“I wanted to go into nursing because I truly believe I was given a second chance,” said Ennis, 25, of Roslindale, who is studying to become a nurse practitioner in the Graduate Entry Pathway (GEP) Class of 2015. “I have always felt that if I could ever be in a position to help someone the way the doctors and nurses were there for me, there would be no other option.”

Ennis’s remarkable journey was featured in the Boston Sunday Globe.

In the presence of family, guests and faculty members, Ennis was among the 29 advanced practice nursing students presented their nursing pins in a formal ceremony on the UMMS campus. The event kicked off a week of special events for the annual fall Convocation. The GEP program, for individuals with a baccalaureate degree in a field other than nursing, leads first to registered nurse licensure and then to advanced nursing specialties. The pinning ceremony symbolizes successful completion of the courses and clinical experiences required for taking the licensure exam.

For Ennis, it’s been a hard-fought journey since a random injury during a hockey game led to the discovery of the tumor.

“I’d been playing hockey since I was 4 years old, and I took a hit to the chin in a game when I was 13,” he said. “I didn’t feel right. I knew I was off and my coaches did too.”

An MRI revealed something suspicious, and it was later confirmed to be an atypical choroid plexus tumor. He underwent aggressive brain surgery at Children’s Hospital, followed by many months of physical therapy.

“I was told I might never play hockey again,” he said. “I had to learn how to walk again. I had just gotten into Boston Latin, my eighth grade year, and I missed about half of that year.”

The prospect of not getting back on the ice compelled him to work harder.

“That’s what pushed me. I always knew I wanted to play college hockey,” said Ennis, who has had no sign of regrowth since the tumor was removed.

After playing for Boston Latin and for the Bridgewater Bandits of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Ennis became a walk-on for the UMass Boston team. In 2012, he became the first UMass Boston hockey player to win the Eastern Mass Hockey Officials Association J. Thom Lawler Award, given each year to an NCAA Division II or III hockey player in New England for their commitment to their program, university and community.

He graduated from UMass Boston that same year with a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise and health sciences, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree. He said he chose UMMS for his post-graduate studies for its team environment and for its reputation of giving back to the community.

Read the full Globe story at: Boston Globe: Ex-hockey player starts new life as nurse