Watching 6-year-old Kai Bradley zip through a physical therapy session doing lunges, planks and squats while smiling and giggling, it’s impossible to tell that just a few months ago he was recovering from surgery to remove a large mass in his brain and was unable to walk.
Kai, who has a big smile and an even bigger personality, likes to make his physical therapists laugh.
“He has always been a very happy and energetic little boy,” said his mom, Maribell Cruz of Tamarac. “He loves to play and is a big fan of Power Rangers, dinosaurs, and cars.”
He was sailing through kindergarten last year – learning, growing, making new friends and playing on a flag football team for the first time – when his family’s life came to a halt.
In February, his mom noticed that he suddenly seemed to be walking slower than normal, and then he began to slightly drag his left foot. At first, she chalked it up to her little boy goofing around, but she soon realized that something was seriously wrong. Kai dropped something, and he couldn’t clinch his fingers together to pick it up with left hand.
She took a video of him walking, which proved very helpful for doctors later, and she called Kai’s pediatrician for a same-day appointment. The pediatrician told her to go straight to the Emergency Department at Broward Health Coral Springs.
“It was a busy day in the ER, but it was clear that triage seemed very concerned about Kai’s condition, and we were rushed off for a CT scan,”Maribell said. “When we got into the exam room afterwards, a doctor and two nurses were there waiting for us, and I knew something was really wrong.”
The doctor showed them the scan image from Kai’s brain and his parents were stunned.
“You didn’t have to be a doctor to see that something really big was there, even to the naked eye,” Cruz recalled.
A Rare Diagnosis
Due to the complexity of the case and the type of specialized care he would need, he was transferred to Broward Health Medical Center.
The next morning, a team of medical specialists came in to evaluate Kai and they ordered more tests. He was then diagnosed with a cavernoma, a benign (non-cancerous) lesion in the brain. Cavernomas, also known as cavernous hemangiomas, are abnormal clusters of small blood vessels in the brain or spinal cord that create “caverns” of slow-flowing blood.
The blood vessel walls in cavernomas are weak and thin. This means that they can leak blood, causing damage in the surrounding brain tissue or spinal cord tissue, which may result in ongoing neurological problems.
Cavernomas can cause headaches, hearing/vision changes, loss of balance, memory problems, seizures and more. Cavernomas are sometimes genetic, and the condition runs in Cruz’s family.
Daniel Klinger, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Broward Health, performed surgery on Kai to remove the cavernoma at Broward Health Medical Center.
Dr. Klinger explained that Kai’s condition was unusual because the cavernoma was extremely large, and very few such cases have been documented in medical journals worldwide. Cavernomas larger than 6 cm are classified as very rare “giant” cavernomas, and Kai’s was around 6 cm, Dr. Klinger said.
Kai’s cavernoma was in the deep frontal lobe of his brain, but part of it extended into the ventricles and the basal ganglia. The surgery to remove the cavernoma went well, and it lasted about five hours, Dr. Klinger said.
The family was extremely relieved to learn that his tumor was not cancerous, but Kai faced a tough recovery.
He was hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center for 15 days. Although it was challenging and scary to have their child undergo brain surgery, Cruz said that she, her husband, and Kai all had a very positive experience at the hospital.
“We felt extremely well cared for and it was very clear that everyone cared about us,” Cruz said. “We were very satisfied with everything.”
From that first day in the Emergency Department at Broward Health Coral Springs to the recovery from surgery at Broward Health Medical Center, Cruz said she and her husband were happy with the care their family received.
“Granted everything was rushed at first under the urgent circumstances, but everyone listened to us and took time out to talk to us and make sure we understood everything every step of the way,” Cruz said. “We also really appreciated how the nurses took time to ask us how we were holding up as parents and if we were taking care of ourselves during our hospital stay.”
Kai’s parents are also very thankful to Dr. Klinger.
“We were 110 percent impressed with him, and we are so grateful for him,” Cruz said.
Challenging Road to Recovery
Following his brain surgery, Kai had to relearn to do many basic activities, including walking.
His parents described how tough it was for him to temporarily lose his independence and that he didn’t understand what was happening at first.
“I know it was really hard for him to not be able to do the things he was used to doing,” said his dad, Glenn Bradley. “He didn’t like needing help to do everything and I remember one day we were sitting on the couch, and he said, ‘Dad, I just have to get better. I can’t stay like this.”
After surgery, Kai also developed a complication where his arm would tremor uncontrollably. Dr. Klinger explained that this was likely caused by the fact that part of the tumor had extended into his basal ganglia.
A pediatric neurologist evaluated Kai for the tremor and prescribed a movement disorder medication often used for adult patients with Parkinson’s disease.
“He couldn’t walk, which was very difficult, and he couldn’t control this tremor on his left side which made it hard to do things and difficult to even sleep,” Dr. Klinger said. “We had therapists working with him in the hospital, but when he left the hospital, he still needed a lot of help at home.”
Dr. Klinger said Kai’s case hit close to home because he has a child close to Kai’s age and could empathize with how difficult the situation was for his parents.
“I was glad to be able to help him through this very tricky, dangerous situation,” said Dr. Klinger “It was great to see his strength and resilience and to see how wonderful his parents and his family were with him through this whole experience.”
Dr. Klinger will see Kai every six months for a follow-up and a brain MRI.
“We are anticipating that he will make a full recovery,” Dr. Klinger said.
Making Remarkable Progress
Physical therapy and occupational therapy have been a key part of Kai’s recovery. For the past few months, Kai has been coming to Broward Health Coral Springs for rehabilitation services.
Twice a week, he has been doing physical therapy to regain his ability to walk and perform other gross motor skills, and occupational therapy to work on memory/recall, hand strength, upper-body strength. It took about two months for him to fully regain the ability to walk independently.
His therapists remind Kai how his dad used to carry him in for his sessions, and they praise him for his hard work during physical therapy and occupational therapy. Kai laughs as he reminisces with his parents how he would have to scream to wake them up if he needed to use the bathroom during the night and how he doesn’t need his wheelchair anymore.
“It really doesn’t seem like we have been coming here for almost three months,” said Bradley as he watched his son excel at occupational therapy. “He loves coming here, and he loves the people who work with him. They always make his day.”
His parents are overjoyed to see their son’s recovery.
“Now he won’t stop running around, and you can barely get him to sit down,” Bradley said.
After long sessions of both occupational and physical therapy on a recent Tuesday evening, Kai is still full of energy and bounces over to his parents asking if he can stop for a happy meal with extra fries on the way home.
Kai is excited to go back to his old school and see his friends, especially since he missed the last few months of kindergarten during his recovery. He is also eager for flag football season to start again – with his dad as his coach.
“He is almost 100 percent back to his six-year-old self, and we are so happy to see that,” Cruz said.
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