Prosser senior battled through illness to graduate

Yakima HeraldJune 6, 2014 

Prosser High School senior Caleb Albrecht works on his 1967 Pontiac Firebird in his grandfather's garage in Sunnyside.

KAITLYN BERNAUER — Yakima Herald-Republic

— Any severe illness or injury would make high school tough.

Caleb Albrecht, one of roughly 160 graduates from Prosser High School this year, had two.

“He couldn’t seem to catch a break,” said Kevin Lusk, Prosser High School principal.

Albrecht missed more than three weeks of his sophomore year due to surgery to remove a brain tumor. The next year, he broke his neck in two places and missed another three weeks of school.

But Albrecht bounced back from both problems and will graduate Saturday with a sense of gratefulness.

“I can’t believe how lucky I am with all my incidents,” he said. “It was a huge eye opener for me.”

Albrecht grew up wakeboarding during family vacations, riding dirt bikes and helping his father Steve run Albrecht Windows and Doors in Sunnyside.

As his sophomore year approached in 2011, he noticed dizziness and headaches after jumping on a trampoline. He quit eating as much, slept a lot and struggled to help his cousin build a fence one weekend.

One day about two weeks into school, his family struggled to get him out of bed.

A Sunnyside Community Hospital doctor noticed an irregularity on a scan and sent him to Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, where doctors told the family Albrecht had a brain tumor and needed to get to Children’s Hospital of Seattle right away.

“I broke down,” he recalled.

“I’m Caleb Albrecht. I’m athletic, like a normal kid. This is the stuff you see in movies.”

Family and friends paid frequent visits, nurses played Nerf guns with him, church friends in Sunnyside prayed.

Doctors in Seattle operated, removing the golf ball-size tumor from the base of his skull and determined it was a hemangioblastoma, a rare, but benign, tumor that occurs in blood vessels of the brain and spinal cord. It normally affects middle-age adults.

Albrecht spent four days in the hospital, three weeks at home, then two more weeks attending school only half-days. By December, he was back to normal and went on to compete at the state level in swimming his junior year and gradually caught up on homework.

Then, another near disaster struck.

In April of his junior year, about 10 friends gathered in his rural backyard to celebrate his birthday with a bonfire and rough horseplay, when he came down awkwardly on his head and neck in a wrestling match. He said nothing, trying to tough it out.

Later that night, his neck grew more sore and his parents took him to Sunnyside Community Hospital, where doctors told him he fractured two vertebrae.

Again, the family headed to Seattle, this time to Harborview Medical Center.

At Harborview, doctors determined he didn’t need surgery. He stayed home from school for another three weeks, wore a neck brace for three months, stayed off the water skis and couldn’t lift weights.

“Mine and Steve’s life for an entire year was saying no to our son,” said Shelley, his mother.

Albrecht has healed but has not tried wrestling with his friends again.

Future plans include Yakima Valley Community College with an eye toward a career as a physician assistant. In fact, he took a health occupation class at PMH Medical Center in Prosser, developing a rapport with sick children.

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