MINOOKA – The summer Kaitlyn Caraynoff was 10, she and some friends were biking around their Minooka neighborhood, just having fun.
Then her front tire accidentally hit the rear tire of the bike in front of her. The collision flipped her head over heels, over the handlebars and on to the hard pavement.
She was knocked out cold, her mother Kelly said. Kaitlyn said she remembers getting up and walking home “dazed and confused.”
“I didn’t know where I was,” she said.
Her parents rushed her to the emergency room, where Kaitlyn was given a CAT scan, diagnosed with a concussion, and told to go home.
But Kaitlyn couldn’t fall asleep that night. Her head hurt, her vision was blurry and she was vomiting. Her paramedic parents knew the symptoms indicated more than just a concussion had happened, and rushed her back to the ER, where a team was assembling to treat what they knew by then was a brain bleed. According to Kelly, a physician had since reviewed the CAT scan again and saw the disconcerting condition.
“She couldn’t talk right,” her mother said. “Her words were slurred, and she had no balance whatsoever.”
Kaitlyn was rushed by ambulance to a Chicago hospital where a neurosurgeon was waiting.
“They said they were going to watch the bleed,” Kelly said. “It was in the right temporal side, and that controls memory, so they didn’t want to mess with that area.”
Kaitlyn kept getting worse, developing seizures, weakness on her left side and loss of short-term memory. Doctors told them she had pseudotumor cerebri, a condition in which the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid becomes higher than it should. The exact causes are unknown, but it can be associated with certain medications, Addison’s disease, kidney problems, anemia and trauma to the brain.
The condition gets its name because the symptoms resemble a brain tumor, which also can increase the pressure inside the brain. For the next eight years, a team of medical professionals have battled Kaitlyn’s symptoms, operating on her 59 times, lowering the pressure by putting a shunt in her brain to drain the fluid into her abdomen, treating her seizures and headaches and other manifestations of the condition.
As her condition was being managed, Kaitlyn had to have a tutor at home. She would have missed too many classes, and her loss of short-term memory meant altered teaching and learning styles.
“She couldn’t retain much,” her mother said. “She never memorized her multiplication tables. She uses a calculator. All her school homework took twice as long.”
Kaitlyn said it was difficult being in the hospital and not at home with family and friends. And it was especially difficult dealing with the pain.
“I have a headache every day when I wake up and every night when I go to bed,” she said. “My pain scale is different than most people’s ... I’m OK. I’m used to being sick.”
Kaitlyn graduated from Minooka Community High School in May, with her class, ranked 67 of 606 students. It was sheer determination on her part and on her family’s part.
“I fought for every single thing she needed,” her mother said of Kaitlyn’s school experience.
“I told myself that I was going to work 10 times harder than anyone else to graduate,” Kaitlyn said. “I was really determined to do what I had to do to graduate.”
She’s doing better the older she gets, her mother said. This summer, Kaitlyn is working at her first job and planning on attending college, hoping to become a veterinarian.