Pequot Lakes teen dreams of headache-free future
PEQUOT LAKES – On a good day, 15-year-old Makayla Kassa has a dull headache.
On a bad day, the Pequot Lakes High School sophomore can’t eat, drink or get out of bed because of her debilitating headaches. The pain can keep her in bed for several days at a time.
That’s when life gets frustrating.
But until her specialists can figure out how to stop Makayla’s persistent, daily headaches, she is trying to remain positive, choosing to view each headache as a challenge she works to overcome.
“I think of it as a competition, that I can conquer them,” Makayla said of her headaches. “I don’t want to sulk in the corner and say, ‘I have headaches.”
In March 2010, Makayla started to notice things were appearing blurry and she began suffering from headaches. Her mom, Michelle Brown, took her to an eye doctor.
“I got glasses but the headaches never stopped,” Makayla explained.
An eye specialist diagnosed her with papilledema, the swelling of the optic nerve due to intracranial pressure. This condition can lead to vision loss.
At the same time, a CT Scan in May 2011 found a cyst on Makayla’s brain. She was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri, which mimics the symptoms of a brain tumor but there is no tumor. The fluid-filled cyst occurs when the pressure in the skull increases for no obvious reason. Her mother said specialists told them that this cyst was probably formed before Makayla was born.
Another CT Scan last March, revealed the cyst had doubled in size. It has imbedded itself deeper inside Makayla’s brain next to her brain stem, her mom said.
She is being seen by specialists at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. Neurologists don’t know why the cyst is growing. She underwent surgery on June 26 to implant an intercranial pressure monitor in her brain for four days. Doctors were stumped when her pressure turned out to be normal.
“It was absolutely crazy,” her mom said, of the results.
For the last two weeks, Makayla has been on a new steroid medication to try to alleviate the headaches but they’re still persistent.
At this point, her doctors want to monitor the cyst for the next four to six months.
Makayla has no health insurance. Her mother and step-father, Kevin Brown, are self-employed. They own KHB Construction. They have eight children between them, ages 5-24; five of them are still at home.
Brown said she has tried to get Makayla insured to help cover her medical costs, but she has been denied by many insurance companies. The family has been paying out of pocket for Makayla’s healthcare costs but her medical bills for May and June alone total more than $100,000. It’s been a financial stress on the family. She’s undergone four spinal taps, three MRIs, CT Scans and a 72-hour EEG, among other procedures.
“I don’t want it for free, we can’t get any type of insurance for her,” Brown said. “I’m out of options.”
The Browns’ friends are hosting a benefit to help them pay for Makayla’s medical expenses on Aug. 10 at the Trailside Center in Pequot Lakes. The family is grateful for the support.
Makayla is looking forward to her sophomore year of high school this fall, but is hoping her headaches will go away so she can enjoy it. She missed 47 days of school last year because of her headache pain. She plays the clarinet in the high school band. She had to quit playing softball two years ago because of her headaches.
If she no longer suffered from headaches, Makayla said she would love to play softball again, try basketball, perhaps join the mock trial team and try out for a role in a school play. She enjoys the outdoors and playing with her little brothers.
“I’ll try anything. I don’t like to be bored,” Makayla said with an easy smile that seems to light up her face. “I’m still my goofy self. That’s not going to change.”