Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring.
Kaleb Robinson loves to play drums in the Cedar Springs High School marching band. But after a car accident smashed up his body in his junior year, he wasn’t sure he’d even be able to walk, much less march, again.
“It was tough,” Kaleb said, recalling grueling months of therapy at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. “I just felt like I was never going to walk again.”
But with quiet determination, Kaleb did walk again. He also marched with the band again, over constant pain in his right hip. And come May 22, he will walk with his graduating class.
“It’s kind of crazy to wrap my mind around it,” Kaleb said of his recovery from an accident in late 2012. “I’m incredibly lucky I guess.”
Incredibly courageous too, his mother says. “I think he’s a miracle,” Stacy Robinson said. “He’s strong. He never gave up.”
A big reason Kaleb never gave up was his strong desire to return to marching band. He is a member of the band drum line, wants to compete in drum and bugle corps after graduation and eventually play with the famed Michigan State University marching band.
“Having that drive to get back was helpful,” said Daphne Cattenhead, his school counselor. “Without that, it could potentially have been disastrous.”
Traumatic Injuries, Painful Recovery
Indeed, things were not looking great for Kaleb following the accident over Thanksgiving weekend of his junior year. He was returning from Port Huron with a friend’s family and sleeping in the back seat of their car on I-96 west of Lansing. The one-car crash threw Kaleb through the sun roof and into the median.
He doesn’t remember much except yelling out the phone number of his father, Kevin, to a state trooper. He was flown to Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital, where his parents came and waited anxiously with a chaplain through a six-hour surgery.
Kaleb recounted a laundry list of his injuries: a broken pelvis, hip, ribs, shoulder blade and collarbone, ruptured lungs and 21 areas of bleeding in his brain. He was put in a medically induced coma for seven days.
“We were told if and when he woke up he would not be the Kaleb we knew before the accident,” his mother said.
When he awoke, however, he was cognizant and hungry enough to ask for Taco Bell. But he required three further surgeries at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and then outpatient therapy at Mary Free Bed. He learned to dress and shower himself and, over long months, how to walk again. It wasn’t easy.
“Everything had changed,” said Kaleb, recalling wild mood swings and difficulty concentrating. “For a long time, it was bad news after bad news, after more bad news. Then finally you can walk.”
Catching Up and Marching On
In late winter of 2013, he resumed schooling with a homebound teacher, Sue Gates. Studying in a wheelchair, he slowly began making up for lost time. But he wasn’t able to return to school that spring.
When he came back last fall he was still behind in his course work, and over his senior year took 14 classes plus three online courses to catch up. He also got back into marching and concert band despite constant pain in his right leg.
“He was walking with such a limp to try and compensate,” his mother said. “He would come home in tears sometimes. It never stopped him, though.”
With strong support from the band, Kaleb showed exceptional fortitude, Cattenhead said: “There’s some real determination there, and some courage.”
Those qualities saw him through hip-replacement surgery in December. He said it will have to be replaced a couple of more times throughout his life. But that doesn’t deter his goals of going to community college to become a software developer, transferring to MSU and joining the Spartan Marching Band.
For now, he looks forward to graduating May 22, then enjoying the summer. He hopes to see some of his favorite bands such as Linkin Park and 30 Seconds to Mars.
“I think I went through an early-life crisis of wanting to do everything I possibly could,” Kaleb said. “‘Life’s short, go live’ kind of kicked in.”