Fighter Series: Nikko Palumpon
Nikko Palumpon is a 10 year old warrior with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. TSC is a rare genetic disease that causes tumors to grow in the brain and other areas of the body (such as the spinal cord, heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, skin, and nerves). As a result of TSC, Nikko is also diagnosed with epilepsy and autism.
Because of this disease, Nikko has undergone 8 brain surgeries. He has experienced developmental delays and significant setbacks in both cognitive and motor development, and requires care assistance. In the months following surgeries, he has to use a wheelchair to walk and a leg brace to keep proper alignment, as well as attend intense rehab therapy to help him with regaining strength.
Every week, Nikko adheres to a schedule of speech, occupational, and physical therapy. He takes medication that helps him to control his frequent seizures, which vary in intensity but can get so extreme that emergency services need to treat him when he becomes unresponsive.
Since he was diagnosed at the age of 5 months, Nikko has undergone many procedures, tests, and assessments. After all he has endured, medical professionals have diagnosed him with PTSD. Due to the events he had experienced, Nikko was very hesitant to join new spaces and interact with new groups of people.
Josephine Palumpon (Nikko’s mother) was initially looking for a Jiu Jitsu school for Nikko’s younger brother Jae. When browsing Mauricio Alonso BJJ’s website, she saw that they offered Need to Believe Foundation classes on Saturdays. The Need to Believe Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides free martial arts training to students with special needs, at no cost to their families. Since both Nikko and Jae (diagnosed with autism and epilepsy) both have special needs, she says that this offering was a huge surprise blessing.
Josephine is extremely happy with the classes and community that Jiu Jitsu has introduced her boys to, as so many people have been so accepting of Nikko and Jae. Before Nikko’s last surgery, the coaches even got him a gift and sent him a video in the hospital, encouraging him to stay strong.
When Nikko first started Jiu Jitsu, he was scared and nervous to attend. He was worried that he would either get hurt or someone would make fun of him. After a little time training on the mats, Nikko has had a huge confidence boost. He feels that he is stronger than when he first started and even helps encourage his training partners at the gym!
Armed with confidence, Nikko now looks forward to going to training. He has formed an incredible relationship with his kind coaches, who patiently teach Jiu Jitsu techniques and important life lessons. Nikko has seen so much growth in BJJ and is not slowing down anytime soon. When he’s not at the gym, his mother says he is motivated to practice what he learned in class and he’s even looking to expand his skills to boxing and kickboxing.
Outside the gym, Nikko applies what he learns from training. He uses Jiu Jitsu moves and techniques in his everyday movement, to help him with things like getting up, moving his body with confidence, and staying active. As a side effect of the medication he takes to help control his seizures, he can lose mobility and strength. To compensate for these losses, Nikko uses his balance and positioning to continue living life as if nothing changed.
Because of his BJJ training, Nikko can do a lot more than he used to be able to. While he still does require assistance with self-care, he can now put on his own clothes and walk into the shower without help from others. Little by little, progress adds up, and Nikko continues to grow!
We asked Josephine if there was anything that she thinks people can take away from Nikko’s experiences so far. “Glory to God for everything. Nikko still has days when his heart feels heavy and wishes things weren’t so hard for him, or is afraid of someone making fun of all the scars he has on his head from all the surgeries. We tell him he is on a special mission and he is showing the world how he can do all things through Christ who gives him strength. We pray for families to have hope, faith that things can and will get better… don’t take a diagnosis as an absolute, work hard and never give up, find a community and JOIN JIU JITSU!”
She also asked Nikko what he would say to someone else going through something difficult. Nikko gave her the following reply: “Keep doing it, stay strong and be courageous!”
Need to Believe Foundation
Guardian Spotlight: NTBFLink: https://youtu.be/iUTDiAr1IRA?si=5vhKuuUYCDoB2sAo