“I had to relearn everything a human knows”: A Brain Aneurysm Fighter

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Sarah H.

Karter H. on his 12th birthday two weeks before the aneurysm ruptured.

A brain aneurysm is a weak blood vessel in an artery in the brain that fills up with blood. Sort of like a thin balloon, it has a chance of rupturing. If it does burst, blood spills between the skull and the brain, posing a 50% risk of dying.

This is what happened to 7th grader Karter H. In early August, Karter was doing his laundry when he suddenly felt a horrible headache. He described it as “someone stabbing me (on) my forehead.” He fell to the floor crying and screaming for help as his mom and grandma responded.

“‘Karter what happened?” said Sarah, Karter’s mom. “Were you watching too much TV? Were you playing too many video games?”

“But he couldn’t talk from the pain. Then he went into the seizures and didn’t wake up,” said Sarah.

Thankfully, Karter survived. 

He was taken by ambulance in Upland when they, after realizing how severe the situation was, started prepping Karter for a helicopter ride. Soon after, he was placed in a helicopter en route to Loma Linda Hospital for emergency surgery to remove his skull bone. 

“When I was in the rehab center I said, ‘Mom, what is this big hole doing on my head?’ and she said, ‘They had to suck the blood out of your head because you had a brain aneurysm,’” Karter said. 

It turned out that Karter was born with an undetected aneurysm growing inside his AVM, a cluster of unusual blood vessels connecting the arteries and veins in the brain.  

For treatment, Karter had to have a craniotomy, where doctors removed his skull bone, leaving a scar from the front of his head all the way to the back of his ear. After a few weeks, the scar was recut and restitched because it was leaking. He also endured a cranioplasty, where doctors restitched the skull bone into place.  Finally, a cerebral angiogram was inserted in his leg to take pictures of his brain. Doctors then repaired the aneurysm.      

Even though Karter is out of the hospital, his journey is not over. 

I had to relearn everything a human knows. I had to relearn how to talk. When I first woke up, I was stuttering. I had to relearn how to walk and eat.”

— Karter H.

Karter currently goes to physical, speech and occupational therapy. In physical therapy he is learning how to move his body in an effort to return to football and basketball. In speech, he is working on his talking, hearing and memory. And in occupational therapy, he practices moving his hands and doing simple everyday tasks. 

He also takes medication twice daily to prevent seizures as well as iron supplements because his blood is thin as well. His blood needs to be thick enough so it doesn’t make surgery difficult. 

Karter was cleared to return to Day Creek in the middle of October, but he had to adjust quickly to distance learning. Simply attending school would’ve been challenging enough, but Karter has short-term memory loss, so he sometimes forgets that he’s doing work or even in school at all. 

Throughout the experience, Karter’s mom has remained at his side. Due to COVID-19, he was only able to have one person in his room while he was at Loma Linda. And that was his mom. 

It was deeply painful for her to experience her son’s condition with the uncertainty of the outcome. 

“When you go into surgery, you have to sign all of these papers from the risk factor, for something that could happen,” Sarah said. “And one of the possibilities was that he would not make it.” 

This whole experience brought them closer together. Because of COVID-19, Karter can’t risk exposure to the virus, requiring that most of each day is spent indoors. However, they are trying to make the most of each other’s company. Instead of watching TV together, they do puzzles or play board games. 

“We’re very close and dependent on each other now, which I don’t necessarily think is a great thing. But I’m just appreciating that my boy is here. I have a daughter too; I’m not ready to be away from them yet,” Sarah said.   

Even though this whole situation has been trying, they are grateful because they know it could have been much worse. 

“(He) could’ve been behind the wheel and crashed the car, and no one would’ve found him,” Sarah said. “(He) could’ve been in college and no one (would have) woke him up the next day.”

It was better that they found his brain aneurysm now, rather than later. Since Karter is only 12, his brain cells regenerate more quickly, and he is old enough to understand what he has to do to recover. 

“The silver lining is really that if it was going to happen to him, it couldn’t have happened at a more appropriate time,” Sarah said. 

Through everything, Karter has kept a positive view and continues to fight each day without complaining. Through surgeries, MRI scans and intubations, Karter has stayed strong. He and his mom are confident that he will make a full recovery.

“Every single minute of the day, he fought to get back to his old self and to live life. It’s just been the hardest work I’ve ever seen anybody do. And he did it smiling every day and being proud of himself for what he did,” said Sarah.