A 16-year-old from Vancouver Island is trying to beat the odds again — this time after a brain bleed nearly killed him.
The first time was two years ago, when Keygan Power was diagnosed with cancer on his 14th birthday. It was anaplastic large lymphoma, meaning it was in his lymph nodes. He was assessed at somewhere between Stage 2 and Stage 3, his mom says.
This time, they are facing an uphill battle much different than the first one. This time, Keygan has progressed from fighting for his life to fighting to regain his speech and physical capability.
On Jan. 30, Keygan will return home to Saanich with his mom, Allison Power, and his little brother, after six rounds of chemotherapy and drugs.
So far it’s safe enough to say it was a successful treatment as there hadn’t been any sign of the disease since.
The single mom raises her two boys on her own. This summer they went camping for the B.C. Day long weekend. They came home on Aug. 2 and, after a late night catching up online with his friends, Keygan woke his mother at 3 a.m., complaining of a headache.
“I gave him water, and sent him back to bed, hoping it would dissipate, maybe he was dehydrated from camping,” Allison said.
A few minutes later she heard a thud. Keygan was on the floor. His eyes were open, but he wasn’t responding.
Right away he underwent surgery at Victoria General Hospital.
“I was told he’s probably not going to make it to surgery or he’ll die in surgery. When he came out of surgery they said, ‘now his brain will swell,’ and that ‘the next three days were critical,’ so I sat there for those three days,” Allison said.
Keygan had to have a section of skull removed to accommodate the pressure of the swollen brain. He went into a drug-induced coma for 22 days with a respirator breathing for him.
Eventually, he was weaned off the respirator but medical staff warned Allison he was likely to have suffered brain damage.
“At first, cognitively he was not there, he couldn’t talk or move,” Allison said. “As they took the drugs off he opened his eyes and you could see on his machine where he would finish his breath, you could see he had the will to breathe.”
After six weeks he was moved to Sunny Hill recovery centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital. He was the first to use a brand new room at the centre, where he’s had daily therapy.
It’s a journey, Allison said, that’s been exhausting for both of them.
This is a kid who is very bright, who wanted to be a programmer and was getting As and Bs in Grade 10, she said. Neurological tests show Keygan is still highly cognitive. He understands what’s happened to him, and remembers life before the brain bleed.
“He has 100 per cent awareness of what’s happened,” Allison said, including the trauma of grief and sadness. “He has global aphasia. He can’t talk but he understands. He can’t output what he wants to say. He’s locked in. He’s working on recalling words, and has built up to many words. He can read in his head, but not aloud.”
Keygan is also recovering from general paralysis on his right side. He had to wear a cast on his leg but now wears a brace. He transitioned from being in a fully supportive wheelchair in September to his current situation of walking with a cane.
“He’s starting to get muscle movement back. Once one muscle gets going, the next one gets fired up,” Allison said.
One thing Keygan loves is chess. He’ll play anyone he can, nurses, doctors, therapists, and he’ll beat most of them, his mom says.
The next challenge is coming home. Keygan already visited for Halloween and Christmas, but this time he’ll stay.
It won’t be easy. Financially, it will be hard as Allison lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic and both her CERB and the caretaker relief funds she was using have run out. And physically, Keygan went from being mostly independent and able to help at home to being in need of intensive care.
He’ll also go from daily therapies to weekly therapies that will come out of pocket for the family.
“We’re looking at ways to integrate him back into high school but we don’t know,” Allison said.
The family hopes a Gofundme fundraiser will help them transition into their next stage of life.
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