Haley Cattoor

Haley Cattoor is all smiles at home after her long journey to diagnose and treat a disorder that she had which affected her ability to walk and swallow. She is on the road to recovery after a procedure in California last November.

Valentine’s Day last year started out as a normal day for middle school student Haley Cattoor. The day, however, turned out to be the start of an almost year long journey back to health.

Haley was an active middle school student involved in sports and was at swim practice last year when she started getting short of breath and a heavy feeling in her legs. After climbing out of the pool she noticed that her legs from the knees down felt numb.

Haley’s parents started looking for answers at the local hospital. Shortly after the Cattoor’s were on their way to Salt Lake City for Haley to be evaluated at Children’s Primary Hospital.

Little did they know, the journey to find answers for Haley would take them from Utah to Washington and finally to California.

Haley was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a condition that causes the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls coordination and muscle movement, to push into the space normally occupied by the spinal cord.

“In some ways it feels like it’s been a long time since the diagnosis,” Haley said. “But it was only seven months from the beginning to when I had my surgery.”

In those seven months Haley’s condition worsened. First was the numbness in her legs, which after some time resulted in Haley being confined to a wheelchair. Next came neck pain, numbness in her hands and difficulty swallowing.

“Sometimes I couldn’t even swallow water,” Haley said.

Because of her condition, Haley has been home schooled which was a great solution as her classes could be fit around her various appointments and condition.

“Being home schooled was great for what I needed,” Haley said. “But I’m headed to high school in the fall and I’m looking forward to going back to school.”

The doctor in California believed that Haley was an excellent candidate for surgery to alleviate the symptoms of Chiari Malformation.

The decompression surgery is a procedure to remove the bone at the back of the skull and spine, making room for the cerebellum, almost like letting out the waistband of a pair of pants.

“The first two days after surgery, Haley was pretty tired and on medication,” mom Mendy Cattoor said. “But on the third day she was up with assistance and walking.”

Both Mendy and Haley recall that day with emotion.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Haley said. “I was walking right away, something that I wasn’t able to do for seven months.”

About 10 days after the surgery, her parents returned home with Haley, looking forward to seeing her progress with her recovery.

“I didn’t know it but I guess I was supposed to use a walker first,” Haley said. “It really wasn’t useful around the house so I started using a cane.”

After some physical therapy treatments, and her determination, Haley was doing as much as she could unaided. She was ready to get back to being a normal, active teenager.

Her ability to swallow also returned after the surgery and her first piece of food was a chicken McNugget, one of her favorite foods.

“It was so good to eat and not worry about being able to swallow or get sick,” Haley said. “I’ve changed to a ketogenic diet which helps with inflammation. I get terrible headaches without a good diet.”

Haley is looking forward to high school this fall and is ready to try golf and losing the cane. A 100 percent recovery is also expected.

“I’ve never golfed and I’m nervous and excited,” Haley said. “I can’t do contact sports and I’m almost ready to drop the cane. It’s going to be fired soon.”

The Cattoor family is grateful for the support from the whole community during the past year.

“We really can’t say thank you enough to everyone who helped,” Mendy said. “This community is wonderful and comes together when there is a need.”

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