Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with none other than FOX 2 & KPLR 11s Miracle Girl April Simpson. Many of our readers may remember Aprils diagnosis in 2010 of a brain tumor, and her courageous battle at the time. Two years later, her view of life and the importance of family and friends is more apparent than ever. April has endured much over the last few years, but in true form, the Farm Girl from Arkansas has mustered up a lot of grit and determination to make her life exactly what she set out for it to be. With her head held high, she has forged on to become the lead anchor on KPLR 11s News at 4 p.m. April graciously carved out some time in her day to sit down and chat with me about her life, her family and her hopes and dreams for the future.
Q: Can you tell the readers of Lipstik Magazine a little about yourself?
A: Of course. Im 33, single and I grew up on a farm in southern Arkansas, where I was raised with my three sisters. I also have a half brother. I attended the University of Arkansas (Yep, Im a Razorback) and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Broadcast Journalism. I also continued my education and attained my Master of Arts in Communication Management. I started my career in television in Monroe Louisiana, for a year. I continued on in Shreveport Louisiana for another year and then decided to move to St. Louis in 2003 to take on a position with FOX 2.
Q: Since you arrived in St. Louis 9 years ago, how has your career progressed?
A: For about 6-7 years, I was the Sunday morning anchor and at the same time I was the night shift Reporter for the station. Lets just say that those hours will catch up with you after a while, but I loved every minute of it. I then progressed to be anchor/reporter for the 11 a.m. show and eventually have become an anchor on the FOX 2 Show in the morning with Tim Ezell and head anchor on KPLR 11 News at 4 p.m. I have truly been blessed to have had the opportunity to work in St. Louis and have met some incredible people along the way. Everyone at this station is so nice and so great to be around, I really consider St. Louis home.
Q: Well, I can tell by the way that you are talking about FOX 2/KPLR 11, that you really enjoy your job. You must have a special bond with some of your coworkers, right?
A: Definitely! I have had a long lasting friendship with one of the greatest guys in the world, John Gadson, who we sadly lost earlier this year. He was my mentor and my friend on this journey we call LIFE. John was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008, and then was diagnosed with ALS this past year. I was with John through his own diagnosis and treatment and was shocked when I too received the same diagnosis. We were both like, are you serious? Sadly, John died from ALS only weeks after being diagnosed earlier this year. Even more devastating was the fact that I couldnt attend his funeral because I had hip replacement surgery the day before his funeral. He was truly my best friend since I arrived in St. Louis and I will never forget him or his smile.
Luckily for me, I have another friend who I have grown to love like a brother over the years, and I am sure that your readers wont be too surprised when I share with them who it is. Tim Ezell has made my life so wonderful over the years that we have worked together, that I truly consider him my brother. This man has made my life complete in so many ways. He laughs with me, he cries with me and he is always there when I need someone to lean on. Everyone sees the wild and crazy guy on-air, but I am blessed with the other side of Tim, the caring and loving side. I truly feel blessed to have had both of these men in my life.
Q: I personally saw on-air your journey when you were first diagnosed with a brain tumor. Would you mind sharing a few details with our readers who may not have seen it?
A: I started having headaches back in 2010. I kept returning to the doctor and they insisted that I had a severe sinus infection and that I should start and continue on a course of antibiotics. The headaches continued to get worse, and nothing was relieving them. I was on my way home to Arkansas to visit with my family in August of 2010, when I experienced blurred vision while driving that wasnt going away. When I returned to St. Louis, I went to Clarkson Eye Care and they immediately sent me for an MRI. After the MRI, the doctors sat me down to tell me that I had a brain tumor that was affecting my optic nerve. They asked if I wanted to see the MRI, and the tumor was about the size of an orange. I saw it, but I couldnt believe it. I followed the doctors orders, and started on a regimen of steroids to reduce the swelling in my brain. The month that I was on steroids, my love of documentary film making kicked in, and I began to make video segments documenting what I was going through. This was shared with the viewers of FOX 2 at the time. My reason for doing it was two-fold. It gave me the opportunity to try to help anyone who was going through the same thing, just like my friend John helped me since he had gone through it just a short time before. I was also coming to terms with the fact that I didnt know if I would make it through the surgery, so I felt like I was leaving behind my thoughts and feelings for my family, if the end really was near.
Q: Would you mind sharing a few more details about what happened next?
A: Besides taking the steroids, it was decided to do a procedure to attempt to fuse the tumor together, to make it easier to remove. After the procedure, I lost my ability to speak and my right side was paralyzed Needless to say, this part of it was just a little scary. They had prepared my parents and siblings for the worst case scenario. You know all the positive things like, she may be in a medical comma, she may not remember who you are, and of course, she may not make it. Then I went into surgery which lasted 12 hours to remove the tumor. I dont think it all really hit home for my mother until the Chaplain came to sit with her. Then it was real. The doctors shared after the surgery that I died once on the table, and they revived me, but the most astonishing thing for the anesthesiologists, nurses and my mother and father, was that after I woke up, I knew everyone! I was kind of shocked when I woke up and my mother asked if I knew who she was, and I answered her Well of course I know who you are mom. All of a sudden the nurses were literally dancing in the recovery room. My dad was literally dancing in the hall. It was like something you see in a movie or something. Everyone was so relieved that I had made it and that I knew who they were - well suffice to say it was a very surreal scene that day at SLU. I was only in ICU for two days. The doctor asked me once I was moved to a regular room not to look in the mirror for at least three days. Sometimes I wonder if doctors understand women at all; of course, I had to look to see what I looked like. We women are so vain, it was bad enough that they had to shave my hair before surgery and they made me remove my weave, and now you are telling me not to look at myself! I must admit I was a little startled by what I saw, but I began to heal nicely and within 3 months, by the grace of God, I was back to work at FOX 2/KPLR.
Q: Your tumor was benign right? Did you have to undergo any treatment after surgery?
A: The tumor itself was benign, but it was a Grade 3 Meningioma - which translates to - it may reoccur at any time at any place in your body. So I had to undergo radiation for an entire month to the brain as a precautionary measure to eliminate it from reoccurring.
Q: Watching you on-air, you seem as poised and put together as ever. Have you had any other issues that have arisen since the surgery?
A: Just a few. I have never regained sight back in my left eye, because the tumor stretched the optic nerve. I also cannot smell, have lost 20% of my hearing and I have a problem with my equilibrium, which I am learning to cope with. I had hip surgery this year, since the steroids that I was on deteriorated my hip socket, so I had to have it replaced.
This is going to make me sound really vain, but I must share with your readers that losing my hair in the radiation process was the roughest part for me. I totally can relate to all those women going through chemotherapy and radiation. I was against wearing a wig 100% in the beginning. But, just like a lot of things in life, I grew to finally love how easy they were, when I didnt have any other choice but to wear one. It just goes to show you, you dont know, till you know - if you know what I mean.
Q: I am amazed that the entire time we have been talking; you have come up with a positive for every situation that has happened to you over the last two years. What has been the most amazing part of this journey for you?
A: The love, compassion and closeness that has evolved with my family, friends and even fans of the station. This experience has literally touched everyone and every aspect of my life. My own father was so moved by the will of God to keep me on this earth, that he has become a Minister. The outpouring of support from colleagues here at the station and at our national affiliates is just unreal. From Wendy Williams contacting me and offering to send me one of her incredible wigs, to Regis and Kelly, Steve Spagnuolo & Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson sending me Get-Well wishes along the way - who expects to hear from these people, definitely not me.
And the outpouring of support from our viewers has made me realize that we do touch peoples lives with what we do, and that they do care about us along the way. Knowing that so many of our viewers were keeping me in their thoughts and prayers, gave me the strength to keep my held high and to keep going. Even the management here at the station was 100% in support of me. They allowed me to change my schedule to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so that I am now on a regular schedule. These types of things dont happen everywhere. The people in this area are truly amazing!!!
Q: I have one last question for you before we end this interview......what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
A: When everyone sets on their path in life, we all have hopes and dreams, and even through the last two years of my life, those goals and ambitions are still the same. I hope to one day make it onto a national station affiliate, I dream of one day becoming a wife and mother, and I also dream and am in pursuit of becoming a documentary film maker. I started a documentary series about my family since my diagnosis, and have been learning a lot of things I never knew before in the process. My dreams are many and like all of us, I can only hope to fulfill each and every one.