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Former Marine Corps mortarman Cole Bent, 20, of San Juan Capistrano has had a lot of help from the community as he battles back from surgery to remove two brain tumors.

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO -(CA)- Cole Bent has big plans. A book on Egypt sits on his nightstand in San Juan Capistrano to help him prepare for his planned visit there. He plans to go to South America as well, though he doesn’t have a book about it yet.

This might not be unusual for a lot of 20-year-olds, but for Bent and his parents, Brian and Rivka, and his younger sister, Esther, it’s big news.

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Cole Bent receives physical therapy at the Ole Hanson Beach Club in San Clemente, where he gets donated pool time.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

It has been about seven months since Bent, an Eagle Scout and former Marine Corps mortarman, was diagnosed with ependymoma, a form of cancer mostly seen in young children. Surgeons at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo removed two golf ball-size tumors from alongside Bent’s brainstem March 14, four days after he blacked out during a tennis game. Doctors told him before the surgery that his chance of survival was 20 percent.

His comeback owes much to his neighbors in the community, who have helped him and his family at every turn.

SEE A SLIDE SHOW HERE.

Having been told by his doctors that physical therapy would be essential to his recovery, Bent’s family decided to move him into Esther’s room and find help for him. Bent was experiencing poor stability, swallowing, coordination, strength, balance and sight, as well as a 30-pound weight loss within three months after the surgery. His mother thought getting him into a swimming pool would be a good place to start therapy.

The Ole Hanson Beach Club in San Clemente was the first stop, and within a short time, Bent was in the pool and working out, courtesy of Vickie Mierau, a retired aquatic therapist, using pool time donated by swim instructors Debra Thurn and Kayne Schroeder.

That was just the beginning of the community effort, Rivka Bent said. As the family began the endless task of copying and faxing medical records, insurance claims and other documents to providers, the Marine Corps and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Bill and Susan Odelson of Paper Annex in San Juan Capistrano ran “Cole’s tab,” which always has a zero balance.

Then there are the good Samaritans all over south Orange County whom the Bents know only by their first name: Greg at Staples, Buddy at Frio Yogurt, Arthur at The Old Barn, to name a few.

Even man’s best friend has made a mark – Galena Creek Kennels Siberian Huskies in Roseburg, Ore., gave a therapy dog, Piper, as a companion for Bent’s therapy.

Bent, a lance corporal in the weapons section of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines based at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, began to experience nausea, dizziness and problems with concentration after his unit was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010. Three months later, a visiting medical officer noticed his problems and sent Bent home a month ahead of his unit.

Bent was discharged in early February before he knew about his actual condition, his family said. He is still working out the details of his separation from the Marine Corps and currently does not have veteran’s benefits.

Brian Bent, an artist specializing in fashion and design, has been able to cover much of his son’s $1.5 million in medical-treatment costs through his employer’s insurance, Anthem Blue Cross, though the family is still facing a pile of unpaid household and ancillary medical bills.

“I wish I had a spare $50,000 lying around,” Rivka Bent said. “I could sure use it.”

Though he moves slowly and speaking is tiring for him, Cole Bent’s condition is improving by the day – not that he’s giving himself a choice. He has a medal he wants to pass on to someone else who is recovering from a crisis.

The medal was given to him in June by double amputee Harry Snowden of San Juan Capistrano, who received it after completing his first lap around the Saddleback College track on prosthetic legs in 2009. Snowden was given the medal by stroke survivor Fermin Camarena, who is paralyzed on one side of his body and is now a recumbent-bicycle competitor. He received the medal for completing the 2008 Loma Linda University Medical Center Poss-Abilities 5K Walk/Run/Roll triathlon.

Bent met both at Saddleback College while he was taking a physical-therapy class. The medal is engraved with the names of its recipients, along with the year they got it.

“We are focusing on the good things, like the fact that this whole thing happened here and we can help Cole, and how appreciative we are of our community,” Rivka Bent said. “It really takes a village.”

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