Meeting 11-year-old Ke’auvion Dean for the first time, a person could be forgiven for not realizing that this soft-spoken young man has survived a hard-fought battle for his life.
A large tumor was discovered lurking behind his eyes in April 2013, but he has made a miraculous recovery.
Ke’auvion arrived Wednesday evening at the Jack & Jill Fun Zone in The Pines mall along with his family to keep an appointment with a rather famous mouse named Mickey and a pair of volunteers from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The foundation recently agreed to grant Ke’auvion’s wish for a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with an evening of fun and games at Jack & Jill as the appetizer.
“Tears rolled down my face when I heard,” Jack & Jill manager Tonya Mitchner said.
The boy of the hour gleefully shouted “Mickey!” as soon as he spotted the Disney icon and immediately wrapped his arms around his hero with a clearly heartfelt hug.
“I feel really good,” Ke’auvion said. “I have been wanting to go to Disney World for a long time.”
Ke’auvion’s mother, Kimberly Hearn, said that she was overjoyed to have her son’s wish granted.
“What we have been through the past year and a half, you just can’t imagine,” Hearn said. “It was just in April of last year that the doctors found the tumor in Ke’auvion’s head. He had been having balance issues and running into walls so I made him an appointment to see the doctor.”
Hearn said that what began as concerns over her son’s eyesight quickly escalated into a fight to save his life.
“We saw Dr. JoAnn Mays at the Children’s Clinic in Pine Bluff because he was having trouble with nausea,” Hearn said. “Dr. Brent Hall at Hall Eyecare Associates found pressure behind Ke’auvion’s eye and then Dr. Frank Lorusso at Baptist Medical Center confirmed the pressure. We were transferred to Children’s Hospital in Little Rock from Baptist so that Ke’auvion could get a CAT scan.”
Ke’auvion’s tumor was discovered and Children’s Hospital neurosurgeons Dr. Eylem Ocal and Dr. Gregory Albert began their work.
“They found a tumor the size of a grapefruit in my son’s head,” Hearn said. “They did a biopsy and found that it was aggressive, so he had two separate 12-hour surgeries performed to remove most of it. The first surgery got 75 percent of the tumor and the second surgery got most of the rest. He continued to get treatments to shrink what was left of it.”
Hearn said that her son was left lethargic after the second surgery and laid in bed for three months.
“We were afraid he would not be able to recognize faces and would not be able to walk again,” Hearn said. “He was fed through tubes during that time.”
The difference between that boy and the one who was playing laser tag with his brother and sister and other family members Wednesday at Jack & Jill was like night and day.
Hearn spoke of her faith and of how she encouraged her son to keep that faith.
“I tell him to never, ever give up that faith in God,” Hearn said. “We are so thankful for everyone’s prayers. We have been blessed. God gave him another chance in life.”
Jaylin and Kaylin Dean are Ke’auvion’s 14-year-old twin brother and sister.
“It’s awesome and nice for Ke’auvion to be granted his wish,” sister Kaylin said. “It’s good for him.”
“It’s a good thing,” brother Jaylin said. “He can do whatever he wants.”
Ke’auvion’s grandmother Ernie Hearn was grateful both for the upcoming trip to Disney World and for the assistance of many people along the way.
“This means the world to me and lets me know that there are people that still care in this world,” Ernie Hearn said. “Thanks to the doctors at Children’s Hospital who took care of my grandson, I know that there is a God in heaven and that prayer works.”
Michael Dean is Ke’auvion’s father.
“His strength has been unbelievable,” Michael Dean said. “He began to talk about God and never lost his faith. This has brought the family together. Before this happened, his mother and I had grown apart, but it’s amazing how we and the rest of the family came together for Ke’auvion. I’m just in awe of God when I see my son today.”
Jay B. Edwards, Kimberly Hearn’s boyfriend, said that Ke’auvion’s illness has rallied the family together.
“It’s been hard to look at the situation and try to understand it,” Edwards said. “I mean, Ke’auvion loves to stay home, play video games, watch Disney movies and be with his mother and his grandmother. During this time he has been almost like the strength of the family. He was the one comforting his mother at times telling her that it would be OK. This has brought us all closer to God.”
Alfred Carroll is the superintendent of Ke’auvion’s school, Southwood Elementary.
“Ke’auvion has what people call resiliency,” Carroll said. “From thinking his eyesight was bad to learning it was something more serious to the surgeries, he has always been able to bounce back. He is a very good student. Even though he wasn’t able to attend any of the practice sessions for fifth-grade graduation, he knew exactly what to do on graduation day.
“When you ask yourself, ‘why him,’ the answer is in how he handled it all,” Carroll said. “His mother and grandparents showed great strength. I’ve seen so much in 34 years as a building principal, and seeing Ke’auvion come through this has been a high point in my career.”
Make-A-Wish volunteer Brandi Watson said that she and her colleague Rae Nelson have tried to be a source of support for Ke’auvion and his family for the past 12 months.
“I love kids and want to be able to give back,” Watson said. “To see a smile on a child’s face after they have been struggling is just amazing.”