David Ievoli beat the odds

Castleton student David Ievoli was diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease common in preemies.
Sara Novenstern/Castleton Spartan

Ievoli's battle wounds from the surgeries on his intenstines.
Sara Novenstern / Castleton Spartan

When David Ievoli was born, he could fit into the baseball hat Dippin’ Dots cup comfortably. When he went to Disney World, he had to have his nurse go along with him. When he was just a little kid, he could be found sitting on a blanket next to his feeding tube while his cousins played around him.

Now you can’t catch him sitting still.

Ievoli wasn’t expected to live much past his birth, yet he will be graduating on May 9, one day before his 22nd birthday. He’s far from sick and close to accomplished.

Ievoli was born 12 weeks early at 3.1 pounds, but quickly dropped to 2.9 pounds and was diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious intestinal disease among preemies that ultimately means his intestines were perforated. He was helicoptered to Alfred I. duPont Hospital where he went through countless surgeries including one where doctors took out a third of his large intestines. He also had gastric bypass surgery, surgery on his lungs and has his appendix removed.

“My mom told me she came in and she couldn’t look at me because all my fluid retained to my body and I puffed up and I was really shiny and they thought I was going to burst and they had to drain all the fluid out of me,” said Ievoli. “The fact that I’m here is the biggest miracle.”

And despite the ordeal, he was reflective saying “maybe my mom went through more than I did.”  

She doesn’t disagree.

“I broke down and found it hard to imagine his survival,” said Ievoli’s mother, Michelle Ievoli. “I knew he was tough. Even with all the surgeries, he was not one to cry,” she said.

On campus, Ievoli can usually be described as the guy with the piercings, or the guy who puts together all the campus activities.

But there’s much more to him that just that.

 “Most people know him as the guy who plays uke around campus or the guy with snakebites, but I know him as my best friend and one of the nicest guys on campus,” said senior Justin Derosier. “During our freshman year I called him “Sharkbite” and would tell people he was bit by a shark while swimming in the ocean as a kid … of course David being David will always tell them what really happened, and when they say, ‘oh I’m so sorry,’ he just replies with, ‘no worries, it made me who I am today.”

And that’s exactly what Ievoli’s attitude reflects.

“I always told myself because of my surgery I thought I was different, I told myself I wasn’t going to make it or live as long as other people, so I always told myself with the days I thought I had I was going to be happy and at a young age I strived to make myself happy or other people and I realized happiness isn’t in materials, so I think it was a blessing more than anything,”  Ievoli said.

But he wasn’t always so casual about his condition.

“I was really shy as a kid. I wouldn’t like to go to the pools or take my shirt off, and then one day I was like, screw it, who cares,” he said.  

Ievoli’s daily life isn’t affected too much by his condition, but there are exceptions. He can’t throw up, so he doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s nearly impossible for him to gain weight because he can only eat in small increments and when he does eat, you can almost see his food traveling through his entire digestive system.

His girlfriend, freshman Helene Herrick, finds that fascinating.

“After he drinks a lot of water or eats a lot of food, his stomach makes a rumbly noise then you can actually see it moving through his system, it’s really cool to watch! Also, when his stomach is full, his nose runs because your stomach is connected to your nose and because his stomach is so small it stretches and makes his nose run,” Herrick said.

Ievoli is an extremely active student, participating in countless clubs and activities. He is a leader with the Campus Activities Board, helps out with weekly recycling efforts with Green Campus Initiative group, is treasurer of the Psychology Club and the Humane Society Club, began his own Hacky Sack Club as a freshman, was an SOS leader for two years and organized a shoe drive on campus that collected over 300 pairs of shoes.

“That’s when I knew I could make a difference here,” he said of the shoe drive.

But he didn’t always think he was cut out for the college life.

“I think it’s cool that 22 years later, I’m here graduating the day before Mother’s Day … like I didn’t even think I was going to go to college and now I’m up and running for the highest awards Castleton could give out,” including the Carolina Woodruff Award as well as Senior of the Year award.

Ievoli’s positive attitude and impact on Castleton’s community is contagious and powerful.

 “David has also been one of my biggest influences because he has taught me that no matter your walk of life that you come from or how you dress or act, everyone can be friends … David has always been a welcoming and open person and has taught me to do the same for others. He is kind and giving and I am grateful to say he is one of my closest friends and like a brother to me,” Derosier said.

His girlfriend agrees.

“David is lucky to be alive and he shows how thankful he is every day with his positive outlook on life and the big smile that is always on his face,” she said.

 As graduation day fast approaches, Ievoli and his mother both seem reflective. She thought back to his troubled early days and about how far he has come.

“I stood by his crib knowing that David would have a life of adventure and hoped it would not be as scary for me as this had been,” Michelle said.

“The fact that I’m here is the biggest thing,” Ievoli said.

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