Like many an 18-year-old, Keygan Power longs for a little more independence.
For the young Saanich man, however, simply the ability to use two hands to manage life would go a long way.
Keygan graduated last June alongside his peers at Spectrum Community School, but the hurdles along the way meant hard work on his part and creative accounting by administrators.
The first of two life-threatening health scares reared up in Grade 8. On his 13th birthday, Keygan was diagnosed with cancer – lymphoma – assessed at somewhere between Stage 2 and Stage 3. After six rounds of chemotherapy, life returned to relative normal. Keygan’s hair grew back and he merged into Grade 9 classes.
While she commiserates with her son’s slow progress in regaining use of his right arm, Allison Power says it’s a long stretch from where they were on Aug. 2, 2020 at 3:01 a.m. She knows to the minute he came to her complaining of a headache that turned out to be a brain bleed that nearly killed him.
“I just wanted him to be alive, and then he couldn’t walk or talk or move his arms or legs … the hope was bare basics,” Allison said.
During an emergency surgery at Victoria General Hospital, doctors removed a portion of his skull to accommodate the swollen brain. He was placed in a drug-induced coma for 22 days with a respirator breathing for him. Among other things, he woke with global aphasia, and fought to regain his speech and restore other physical capabilities caused by general paralysis on his right side.
In January 2021 Keygan returned home to heal a second time and integrated back into school. Teachers worked with him to get grades where they needed to be, and to sort out what activities he needed to do, which could apply to graduation credits. For example, physiotherapy was applied as physical education.
“They got pretty creative, but he really did work hard, and worked through the summer,” Allison said.
While the milestones are coming more slowly now, they’re still there. Keygan can now list off a half dozen friends’ names with little hesitation. Allison said it’s a skill developed from first not remembering names, to recalling first initials then building up to full names.
He still struggles with words, even with those of closest friends, conversation can be daunting as vocabulary doesn’t always come quickly. It can be isolating. On the physical front, Keygan still wishes most that he had use of both hands as paralysis lingers on the right. The video game Overwatch comes to mind first for the teen but it would also just provide more independence. He does have a very specific gaming mouse for his computer that allows one hand to control an obscene amount of movements, and as Allison tries to explain the technology, Keygan pokes at his smartphone instead, quickly pulling up an image and logistics. The phone’s another way he gets around the lingering effects of aphasia. Keygan sees technology as an equalizer, his computer and laptop holding No. 1 and 2 positions in his list of valuable tools.
While a scar near his wrist attests to a bone broken while attempting to use an electric scooter in a bid for freedom, he does have a key hallmark of blossoming independence – summer work.
His summer job doubles down on the dream of programming he held before the brain bleed.
He works for Byte Camp, where young people learn coding, game design and other computer skills.