Kassidy Brewer, 17, stood on the mat in front of a crowd full of friends and family. This was the moment she’d been working toward for almost 10 years. She was about to be tested for her second-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
It is no secret to any martial arts practitioner that this challenge is nothing short of nerve wracking. But for Brewer this test was especially poignant due to the fact the she had been in a coma three years earlier and, at the time, was only give three days to live.
August 4, 2008, Brewer’s world was shaken. Brewer at the age of 13, came in to her family’s Murrieta, California, home after mowing the lawn complaining about head pain. While her mother took her to the emergency room, Kassidy passed out. At the hospital, doctors diagnosed her with a ruptured brain aneurysm.
“It came out of the blue. She had no symptoms, she had never been sick a day,” her dad Kevin Brewer said to Everyday Health.
Kassidy was airlifted to Rady’s Children Hospital in San Diego, where she was diagnosed with a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which consists of deformed arteries and veins that can prevent blood from circulating properly. They have a higher rate of bleeding than normal vessels and can occur anywhere in the body.
AVMs that occur in the brain, are uncommon. About 12 percent of people with AVMs have symptoms, which may include seizures, headaches, and balance issues.
“Doctors basically said there was no way for her to survive. They gave her three to four days and then they said we would have to talk about donating her organs,” Kassidy’s mother, Donna Brewer painfully remembers. Although it seemed as though all hope was lost, the Brewers knew their little girl would pull through.
“We were just like, ‘This is our Kassidy.’ We just refused to believe what was happening,” her mother Donna Brewer said to Everyday Health.
And then Kassidy awoke from her coma with a little twitch of her finger. And within two months at the hospital she was able to return home.
But unfortunately she carried some baggage home as well. She had significant mental and physical limitations. It took Kassidy five months to learn how to talk again; during the process, she relied on pointing to a board of letters in order to communicate.
Kassuidy had frequent rehab sessions to re-master simple functions like swallowing and walking
But by the fall of 2010, Kassidy’s progress in rehab was starting to stall. “She hit a plateau at her therapies and there was nothing more they could do for her,” says Donna. So when Kassidy said, ‘Mom, I really miss Taekwondo,’ Donna immediately contacted Kassidy’s former instructor, Michael Robles — and she began training the very next day.
“Mr. Robles had all these goals for her before we even stepped in the door. He was 100 percent in with helping her with her rehabilitation,” Donna says. “He even set up obstacle courses for Kassidy to help improve her balance.”
Although at the beginning Kassidy was required to use a walker, she slowly fought her way back to her pre-brain injury skill level.
“Taekwondo has helped with my recovery because it all has to do with balance and determination and goals, and that's mostly how I've gotten to where I am today,” Kassidy said.
Today, Kassidy no longer requires a walker.
Robles knew that one day she would one day be able to go for her second-degree black belt.
“Our first day back we decided to put this in motion,” says Robles. “I said, ‘Let’s get back on track, get that second-degree, and pick up where we left off.’”
When the day of her test finally came, Robles and Kassidy decided to turn it into a fundraiser for the hospital that saved her life.
“Let’s put together a fundraiser and have some fun and tie it in with her second-degree to show the world the triumph of not only Ms. Brewer but of what Rady Children’s Hospital can do,” says Robles.
“Rady Children’s has done so much for me,” Kassidy says. “I’m so grateful toward them. ‘Thank you’ doesn't even begin to cover what they do for all of those kids in there.”
Looking back on that unfortunate day in the fall of 2008, the Brewers choose to be optimistic. “It’s brought us closer in a way that you just can’t imagine,” says Donna. “This brush with death has changed every one of us in every single way of our life. We look at people differently. We look at our relationships differently. We look at our children differently. It's given us compassion.”