CHOC Children's

CHOC Pressroom


January 21, 2013

From The Orange County Register

Published January 21, 2013

By Jordan England-Nelson / Orange County Register

Two sophomores from Foothill High school, who both underwent brain surgery recently with the same doctor, went to the winter formal together Saturday.

When Foothill High School sophomore Colby Baron's head started to hurt during 3rd period AP biology, he didn't know that he'd had a stroke. Or that within the next 24 hours he would have a six-inch scar across his left temple. He also didn't know the ordeal would get him a date to the winter formal.

Cassie Vaglienty, another Foothill student that underwent brain surgery the year before, learned about Colby's situation through updates on his Instagram account.

"I think I was the most concerned," Cassie said. "Just because I knew what kind of situation he was in."

The two patients, who had the same surgeon, have been close ever since. They attended the Tustin school's winter formal together Saturday.

TUSTIN – During the time Colby was in the hospital last October, recovering from brain surgery, his family kept his friends at Foothill High School updated on his status by posting pictures and comments on his Instagram account. That's how Cassie Vaglienty, also a sophomore at Foothill, learned about Colby's situation.

A year and half before Colby's trip to the ER, Cassie had suffered a stroke that left half her body partially paralyzed. After surgery and rigorous physical therapy, Cassie made a full recovery. But her experience left her particularly empathetic to what Colby was going through.

"She just kind of got it," Colby said about Cassie, who sought him out after he came back to school. They learned that not only had they had the same brain issue, they had shared the same doctor.

The two 16-year-olds became fast friends, and when winter formal came around, Cassie asked Colby if he would be her date.

Dr. Michael Muhonen, director of Neurosurgery at the CHOC Neuroscience Institute, said he was nonplussed when he heard the news about the unlikely couple he'd operated on.

"They're both wonderful kids and they both survived life-threatening conditions," he said.

When asked for a prognosis about the couple's (medical) future, the doctor was unequivocal: "I'm optimistic," he said.

By 5th period that fateful day in late October, Colby's headache had gotten so bad that he skipped soccer practice and went home to take a nap. When he woke up, he had a text message on his phone from a friend, but was unable to read it.

"It looked like it was in a different language," Colby said.

When he started mispronouncing words, his mother decided it was time for a visit to the ER. Colby remembers being unsure why he was in the hospital. He had trouble responding to simple questions. When the doctor asked him to touch his ear, he touched his nose.

"Then they put me on morphine, and the rest of the night was kind of a blur," he said.

An MRI of Colby's brain showed that he had an arteriovenous malformation, a congenital condition involving an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain. The bundle had ruptured and the excess blood was putting pressure on Broca's area, the region of the brain responsible for speech and language.

Surgery was scheduled for 7 a.m. the next day. The doctor told Colby's mother there was a 50 percent chance of a full recovery.

"I was scared to death," Jennifer Baron said. "Couldn't he have given me (odds of) 85 or 90 percent?"

The surgery was successful, but it still took the better part of a week before Colby was speaking normally. He needed frequent naps. Visitors were kept to a minimum. Even watching TV was a chore.

Colby's three older sisters flew or drove in from Oregon, Utah and Corona. His older brother, a diplomat in Trinidad, spent 24 hours on planes and in airports to get to his brother's side.

"I'm pretty much the only child at home right now," Colby said. "Having (my siblings) there was like a revert to my childhood. To have a big family around me like before, it really helped."

During Colby's stay at the hospital, his family sent out photos and updates via his Instagram account and his sisters started a blog about their brother's ordeal.

It was through Instagram, a social networking site similar to Facebook, that Cassie and the rest of Colby's schoolmates learned about and stayed updated on his condition.

"I wanted to be there (at the hospital) so bad," said Cassie, even though she knew Colby couldn't have visitors in the days following the operation.

When Colby finally made it back to school at the end of November, Cassie sought him out. As it turns out, the two sophomores had more in common than just matching scars and goofy haircuts (Cassie insists her hair hasn't been the same since the surgery). They have mutual friends and both play soccer for Foothill High.

When Cassie asked Colby to the winter formal, she made him a soccer-themed poster that asked if he would "assist" her in her "goal" for winter formal.

"Did I score? Or is it a red card?" the poster read.

Colby immediately accepted, then responded in kind with a soccer ball and a card that said, "I'd rather be dead, than give you a red."

Cassie may have scored a date to the formal, but the couple insists they are not in item.

"I have my girl friends and he has his guy friends," Cassie said. "But we don't 'hang out' hang out, you know? We're just good friends."

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