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Gallop to graduation

Thu., June 4, 2009

Tessa Cranston took headaches head-on

Moving to a new state for your senior year of high school can’t be easy.

Tessa Cranston, 18, came to Medical Lake High School last year from Sanger, Texas, a small town just outside of Dallas/Fort Worth.

“People were a lot friendlier than I thought they were going to be,” Cranston said.

But going to a new school and meeting loads of new people wasn’t the biggest challenge Tessa was going to face during her senior year.

She had always had migraines – she’d been on medication for them since she was 10. She also had some head injuries growing up. But shortly after school began last fall, the medication seemed to stop working.

A doctor recommended she get an MRI and a neurologist diagnosed her with a Chiari malformation – a condition in which the base of her skull was pushing into the cerebellar tonsils in her brain. Cranston’s mother, Anita Cranston, said that doctors told her that between the ages of 16 and 18 the brain starts to grow faster, which is why Cranston’s headaches started to worsen when they did.

Doctors scheduled her for brain surgery right away.

“I wasn’t as scared as I thought I was going to be,” Cranston said. She said the recovery was harder than she expected, though.

She spent four days in intensive care and three days in a regular room in the hospital before she could come home. The headaches, however, came back in a way she had never had them before.

Doctors found that fluid had built up in her brain and tubes had to be put in to drain it.

Cranston was in the ICU for another two weeks.

“I had a ton of visitors,” she said.

When they asked her how she was feeling after this second surgery, Tessa realized she felt better than she had ever felt. Anita Cranston said that it had always looked like Tessa had a headache – a slight wrinkle in her forehead always told her when Tessa was having a migraine. But since the surgery, she doesn’t see that in her daughter anymore.

Cranston said she needed to learn patience during this ordeal. She also said that one of the hardest things she had to do was rely on other people, such as her mother.

“She calls me ‘my caretaker,’ ” her mother joked.

While Cranston was dealing with her health, she ended up missing around five months of school. She said the high school sent a tutor to her house to help with her school work. When she graduates on Saturday, she will have a grade-point average of 3.96.

It probably comes to no surprise to her mother, who describes Cranston as very smart, driven, focused and independent.

And now that she’s feeling better, she has been able to return to her horse, Top Gun – the family likes to call him Gunner.

The two recently made a trip to Pasco to compete at the state equestrian tournament. After taking about six months off of training, the pair still earned first place in the dressage competition.

Gunner used to be jittery at competitions, and at this one a loud elevator noise went off right before the two were to compete.

“She told me, ‘I jumped and I looked down and he was still there,’ ” Anita Cranston said. “He’s just a phenomenal show pony.”

“He did really good,” Tessa Cranston agreed.

After she graduates, Cranston plans to visit friends in Texas. Then, she’s going to come back here and find a job, hopefully working with horses, even mucking out stalls.

She’ll attend Spokane Falls Community College before finding a college with an equestrian program. She would like to get her degree in horse training.

Her mother was excited about the win at the state competition after all they had been through.

“I just wanted her to have one thing that, looking back on her senior year, wasn’t terrible.”

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