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Northwest Christian Home-School student looks to graduation after brain surgery

Theo Turner is a graduating senior from Northwest Christian Homeschool.  (Courtesy)
Theo Turner is a graduating senior from Northwest Christian Homeschool. (Courtesy)

Any time Theo Turner goes to class for Northwest Christian Schools’ home-schooling program, he does so in a full cowboy outfit.

He’s always dressed with a boots, jeans, a button-up western shirt. If he can wear a cowboy or baseball hat, he will. For his senior work study, he shadowed a cowboy. For a presentation, he brought in a rope to demonstrate his roping skills.

It’s something that’s always been a part of his life and even beforehand – his mother rode horses while she was pregnant with him.

But Turner’s passion as a cowboy and his senior year were disrupted briefly in February when he had his fifth brain surgery to remove a malformation in the blood vessels, or arteriovenous malformation, in his brain.

Despite an ICU stay and six-month recovery, he didn’t let it stop him for long, returning to school shortly after to finish his work and prepare to graduate. He has plans to work on a ranch as a cowboy following graduation.

“(The surgery) really hasn’t affected me,” Turner said. “I haven’t let it affect me.”

When he was about 18 months old, Turner had his first brain surgery to remove malformed blood vessels, which can disrupt normal blood flow and oxygen circulation. After his first surgery, he was paralyzed on his right side, his mother, Arwen Turner, said. But he worked through it, and despite some weakness, no one would know just by looking at him.

“Theo’s a miracle,” she said. “He’s overcome it all.”

Since then, he’s had four more surgeries, and he’s recovered every time.

Shortly after his surgery, his literature teacher Melodie Workman said he came back to class completely prepared, as if nothing had happened.

He’s overcome everything with “overwhelming character,” Workman said. “He’s one of the most resilient people I have ever come across in my life.”

Symptoms of the surgeries include headaches and memory loss, two things that could make schoolwork difficult. But with patience and some accommodation, Turner still completed his work.

Courtney Manuel, senior leadership teacher, said she offered some accommodations for Turner post-surgery, but for the most part, his logic hasn’t been affected much at all.

“And he asks for help,” she said. “You don’t see many 18- or 19-year-olds ask for help.”

Turner said throughout everything, school has helped him a lot, especially his teachers and friends that are so supportive.

His work as a cowboy has also helped. When he was younger, he rodeoed before getting into roping and 4-H. He said he’s always loved horses and has been interested in the cattle industry. He puts fences in, births cows, hauls hay and helps sick calves.

Manuel, who oversaw his senior work study as a cowboy, said Turner has always had a good relationship with animals.

“It’s always been a safe place for him to go,” she said.

For Manuel, she’s been most impressed with how Turner has kept his faith through all of the hardships. Being able to face hardships without faith wavering is a huge part of their Christian program, she said.

Arwen Turner said she has to have faith that things are going to be OK, and her son has proven they will be, having beaten many odds.

“Even if it’s not always comfortable for us, it’s going to be OK,” Arwen Turner said.

As he looks toward his next steps as a fully committed cowboy, Theo said, “I’m excited to get out and explore and see what I can do and what I’m capable of doing.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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