Nearly a year and a half after an undiagnosed brain bleed caused a stroke that would leave him mostly paralyzed with a grim prognosis for full recovery, 17-year-old Medford skateboarder Matt Hankey is more determined than ever to prove doctors wrong and return to his beloved sport.
Hankey spends five hours each day doing grueling exercises to regain use of his left side and spends countless more researching his condition and planning his full recovery.
He was told last year he might never speak again and would live permanently with a tracheotomy. But he has defiantly overcome both, his "trach" long gone and his voice regaining its strength and fine-tuned teenage sarcasm with each passing day.
An avid skateboarder since age 5 and recruited for the Jack's Board House team by middle school, Hankey began suffering migraine headaches at age 10. Doctors thought they were the product of growing pains. But on April 6, 2012, Hankey suffered a stroke after undetected bleeding in his brain caused an arteriovenous malformation to rupture. People with the congenital condition, known as AVM, are born with a tangle of blood vessels in the brain that divert blood directly from arteries to veins.
Kept in a medically induced coma for a month, Hankey awoke to a tracheotomy and the inability to move his left arm.
He has since undergone four brain surgeries, their scars evident on his skull. There isn't much more doctors can do while his brain rebuilds the pathways that control the left side of his body. But Hankey and his mother, Melissa Allred, are unable to simply sit and wait.
Standing in his living room recently, with help from leg braces and a standing platform used for physically therapy, Hankey says he's slowly checking off a list of things doctors told him he'd likely not do again — speak, feed himself, stand. His ideas flow faster than he can get his words out.
He says he's read success stories about countless others who have suffered the same condition, and he knows recovery can happen faster and more fully.
Allred grimaces at the doom-and-gloom prognosis for most patients suffering from her son's condition.
"Basically, if he didn't get better within 90 days, they didn't think he would. I guess they thought I was going to leave him in a nursing home," she says.
"I said, 'Over my dead body.' I wouldn't take my dog to a nursing home."
Hankey enlisted a tutor to help him graduate on time with classmates at South Medford High School in June.
As his mother helps him off his standing platform and onto a pad he uses to roll from side to side, Hankey reminds her how he was "so pissed off" to miss a fourth year of German classes because he was unable to speak.
Passing the time by researching his condition, networking with friends via laptop and watching skateboard videos of himself and friends, Hankey has researched the benefits of hyperbaric therapy — which is not a recognized treatment for his condition in the U.S. — and hopes to raise money to undergo intense therapy at a facility in Canada.
Allred, who is unable to work because of her son's condition, is hoping to raise the $9,500 the facility would charge.
"Sixty hours of hyperbaric chamber therapy gives 200 percent more oxygen, which helps the brain to heal itself," Allred says.
Looking at her son, she teases, "We gotta do something because I'm getting sick of sitting here with you all day long."
"Me, too," he says slowly, smiling back at his mom.
While the pair banter back and forth, Allred admits to fighting back tears when her son's best friend, Haydn Millner, wheeled him across the stage at the South Medford High School graduation in June.
"It was pretty emotional," she says.
"But even when the doctors said he probably couldn't do it, I knew he was in there. I knew he would do more than they thought he could."
Hankey dreads turning 18 from a wheelchair on Sept. 7, but he is eager to take bigger strides toward a full recovery.
Not skating again has never been a reality he would accept.
"We've read stories about people who have fully recovered so there's no reason that I can't," he says via text.
Still a member of Jack's Board House team, Hankey's venture to Canada is the focus for recent fundraisers, including $5 "Get Down For Hankey" bracelets sold in the skate shop.
The phrase, Hankey explains, came up one summer while he was skating with friends and prompted a Facebook group and even some tattoos in support of the downed skater.
"I just randomly started saying that one summer, 'Get down for yourself!' with my friends and we all started using it all the time," he says via text.
"When I was comatose, everybody knew what I was going through so then everybody started saying, 'Hey, Get Down for Hankey!' "
To contribute to Hankey's attending of Ability Camp (www.abilitycamp.com), in Ontario Canada, visit online, www.gofundme.com/woyfo.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at email@example.com.