Trussville teen survives aneurysm, graduates high school

TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) -- A teen is celebrating a major milestone two years after a brush with death.

McKenzie Hanlon was always a good student, but suffered from frequent migraine headaches.

One night, a month into her senior year of high school, Hanlon's migraine was unbearable.

Her mother, Misti Garrison, said she was disturbed when her daughter said she was afraid to be alone that night.

"She couldn't sleep at all. (McKenzie) was just nauseous-- couldn't really lift her neck up-- just really sore," Garrison remembers.

Garrison called a doctor.

"As a mom, you think, like, everything's going to be OK, but you feel a feeling like you want to make sure everything's OK," Garrison said. "So when they tell you it's not, it's surreal. And your world comes crashing down pretty quickly."

Scans of Hanlon's brain revealed an aneurysm. She was taken into surgery.

When doctors got a closer look, the aneurysm was even larger than they'd thought.

Garrison said doctors tried to bypass the artery with a section of artery from Hanlon's arm.

"They had to turn off the artery all together, which caused a stroke," Garrison said. "And then she had another stroke further back."

Garrison said the initial procedure lasted more than 14 hours.

"She had seizures during the surgery. We almost lost her," Garrison said. "They got her out of surgery and they almost lost her again, because her brain swelled so much that they had to go back and remove part of her skull to alleviate some of the swelling."

Hanlon pulled through, but it was just one battle in a long fight ahead.

Hanlon's right arm and leg were paralyzed, her vision was severely impaired and the only words she knew were "no" and "mom."

Garrison remained by her side through grueling physical therapy, where Hanlon eventually learned to walk again.

The following fall, Hanlon re-started her senior year at Hewitt Trussville High School, in the special education program.

Garrison said she was told Hanlon would probably need two or three years to graduate, but in June, Hanlon walked across the stage and accepted her diploma.

"(It was) surreal," Hanlon said. "Just walking up and getting the diploma -- like, I felt like, joy."

"It was an inspiring moment," Garrison said. "Just to know that she had made it. And not only made it, but made it in a way shorter time than anybody thought she would. Just the emotion of having her with us and having her succeed has just brought so much joy and hope to us."

Hanlon still goes to physical and speech therapy.

"I'm working pretty hard, but, slow process," Hanlon said. "I just want (use of my arm) back. So that's what I'm doing."

"We just tell ourselves every day, it's day by day," Garrison said. "Some days are harder than others, but just never give up. She never gives up, and that's the best part."

Hanlon plans to attend either the University of Montevallo or Jacksonville State University in the fall of 2018.

Hanlon hopes to someday work in the medical field, because she was inspired by the doctors and nurses at UAB hospital who saved her life two years ago.


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