Family and friends celebrate student’s life, degree

By Harrison Slaughter – jslaught@unca.edu – Staff Writer | Sept. 24, 2014 |

Robbie Coin, a UNC Asheville student, passed away on Sept. 7 from complications following neurosurgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Coin’s name will be read for his commencement.

“Robbie was kind — he always thought about others. The most consistent thing I keep hearing, from people who I don’t even know, is that he would always call just to see how they were doing,” said Shannon Coin, Robbie’s wife. “I never knew that I could meet someone I could be that comfortable with. He was my best friend. We laughed a lot and just had a wonderful friendship.”

Robbie Coin
Robbie Coin

According to Courtney Bell, Robbie’s sister, their parents struggled with alcoholism, causing their grandparents to take over raising them when she was around 11 years old.

“We were really close growing up. We kind of raised each other. I was probably more like his mom for a long time, rather than his sister, since our grandparents were so much older,” Bell said. “It was pretty much just me and him.”

In August of 2000, he started to notice that one of his eyes was jumpy, so he went to the eye doctor to have it checked out. They performed a MRI that showed a small spot in his brain. He went in for a follow-up and it had grown by around 6 centimeters, according to Bell.

“They did brain surgery in January 2001. They then diagnosed him with Hodgkin lymphoma. There were so few cases of Hodgkin’s disease in the brain, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital accepted him for treatment,” Bell said. “They did a full body scan and realized the cancer spread throughout his body. They performed three months of aggressive chemotherapy and three months of total body radiation.”

After successful treatments, Robbie’s cancer went into remission.

“During and after his treatment, Robbie was on a lot of medication. With Robbie’s history of familial substance abuse, he developed a problem with the opiate based pain medication,” said John Baley, friend and UNCA alumnus. “This became a rather dark period in his life and he dove fairly deep into the depths of addiction.”

According to Bell, this was a time when a lot of his friends were graduating college and starting their lives and he wasn’t even sure if he was going to live.

“Robbie moved in with some friends and ended up making some poor choices. He got in to some trouble and eventually ended up going to prison,” Bell said. “He went to rehab for 7 months before prison. He did a lot for other people while he was in prison.”

Upon release from prison, Robbie moved into a halfway house in order to build a better foundation for his recovery. He got a job working for Goodwill and worked there for more than a year. He continued making good choices, according to Bell. Robbie remained clean for more than 8 years before passing away. According to Coin, it is a true miracle when any addict dies clean.

“Everything was going well for Robbie in school and health wise for quite a few years. In November 2011, he started having some weird symptoms like his balance being off and headaches,” Bell said. “He went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a bleeding cavernoma in his brain stem. This was very unusual because less than 2 percent of these cavernomas are in the brain stem.”

According to Coin, surgery was a risky choice. The bleed at this time was small and the symptoms weren’t terrible, so the doctors said it wasn’t worth it, at that time, to risk the surgery.

“It took him about six months to recover. He got back into school. He never quite got back to what he was, but he worked really hard and studied really hard to make it through,” Coin said. “Then in June and August of this year, it bled again, this time much worse than the first bleed in 2011. It became critical for the doctors at Emory to remove the lesion.”

“Robbie was very adamant that if he couldn’t recover from surgery and live a full life then he didn’t want to live that way. The decision was made to take him off the life support,” Coin said. “Jason Wingert, Robbie’s adviser at UNCA, drove all the way to Atlanta to present Robbie with his diploma before he passed away.”

A memorial service will be held for Robbie on Sept. 28 at the Crest Center Pavilion.

 

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