Poly High Sr.’s near-fatal medical condition inspired her to publish a cookbook for a good cause • the Hi-lo – Long Beach Post | Directory Mayhem

In March 2021, just before her 16th birthday, McKeever was exercising at her family’s home in Belmont Heights when she suddenly became very ill with an unbearable headache and unrelenting vomiting.

“It was really scary because we didn’t know what was going on for a very long time,” McKeever recalled. “I thought at first I had food poisoning.”

After days of intense symptoms and repeated visits to the emergency room, doctors determined McKeever had suffered a brain hemorrhage. The recovery kept her in the hospital for two weeks and bedridden for a month.

The Poly High School student’s once-busy schedule of AP classes, Boy Scout meetings, volleyball, and shopping with her friends came to an abrupt end.

“The only thing I could really do was walk around my house, and then I really started cooking again,” she said.

To pass the time, McKeever cooked some of her parents’ favorite dishes. And while she was chopping garlic, dicing vegetables, and experimenting with herbs, she leaned into the exercise to take her mind off any tough decisions she faced.

McKeever had survived the hemorrhage with minimal damage to the “eloquent” region of her brain — the part responsible for learning, working memory, and language — which was alleviated over time with work.

“I know I’m very lucky,” she said. “A lot of people lose the ability to speak for a while. You lose motor functions.”

But McKeever’s happiness was short-lived. She was diagnosed with an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation, a rare and often life-threatening condition that occurs when a group of blood vessels in the brain forms incorrectly. As is often the case with AVMs, McKeever had developed the condition in infancy and had not been diagnosed until the bleed.

This condition meant McKeever was very likely to have had another cerebral hemorrhage. And a second time, doctors believed that she would not be so lucky.

“Her AVM was placed in her left hemisphere, but it was next at the edge of a structure called the hippocampus, which is your brain’s learning center, the ability to learn new information,” said McKeever’s mother, Xantha. “So it was at a really critical point.”

McKeever’s options were few, and each one involved serious risks. Brain surgery, which was one of the options, could potentially cause new damage to their language and memory, even their eyesight.

“She wouldn’t be able to drive, play sports, pursue her lifelong dream, which ironically for a couple of years has been to become a doctor or any medical professional,” Xantha explained.

However, the radiosurgery would leave her vulnerable to bleeding again from where she had already bled for a year, potentially killing her.

They decided to have brain surgery. But just before the procedure, doctors found that the AVM was gone, which can happen on rare occasions, Xantha explained. Months later, however, doctors found that the AVM had returned. This time the family went to radiosurgery.

“I think that was the best option and the doctors have been such a comfort to me,” McKeever said.

During months of deliberation, treatment, and post-surgery, McKeever continued to cook, culminating in her cookbook, The Vegetarian Cookbook for People Who Don’t Like Vegetables, which she self-published in April.

The cookbook contains over 20 vegetarian and vegan recipes that were originally inspired by her father’s conversion to veganism years ago. The recipes are simple and easy to follow, and include health facts about a single ingredient in each recipe.

McKeever said her mom’s favorite was the chickpea and cheese quesadilla; Her father’s favorite is the Cashew Alfredo Pasta. McKeever has a thing for red lentil soup.

“It gets me every time because it’s so warm and soothing,” she said.

Cookbook by Sydney McKeever featuring her recipes and photos published in Long Beach on Tuesday August 9, 2022. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Putting the book together was a pet project at first, but McKeever saw potential for more. McKeever donates 100% of sales to the Joe Niekro Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting AVM patients and their families. The foundation, she explained, is an invaluable resource for her family to guide her treatment.

McKeever is also working on a website as part of her Gold Award Challenge with the Girl Scouts that will feature a wealth of information about AVM and treatment resources that she and her mother have compiled over the past year.

McKeever is now on the home stretch of her journey and treatment from radiosurgery. By December, McKeever will know for sure if she’s fully healed of her AVM. Though the experience was harrowing at times, McKeever said what she learned from it was nothing but positive.

“As cheesy as it sounds, I need to focus on what’s really important in my life. I’m someone who gets very involved with schoolwork and trying to get results,” she said. “Having the brain hemorrhage and having all my family and friends just showed me how much I care about the connections I’ve made with people.”

Of course, the Poly High PACE student still has big plans. McKeever said she plans to study neuroscience in hopes she can help other people who might one day share her experiences.

And as for her big date in December? She keeps it simple.

“I think we could go out to dinner or at least have ice cream or something special,” she said.

McKeever’s book, “The vegetarian cookbook for vegetable haters” costs $16 and can be purchased from Amazon, click here.

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