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HE'S BOUNCING BACK

Eleven-year-old Juan Millan is recovering from a rare brain trauma.

It took Alexandra Millan four years to have a baby.

Finally, she and her husband, Nelson, got a gift: a 71/2-pound bundle of boy. They named him Juan.

"It was from the Bible," said Nelson, 55. (The name in English is John, Christ's most beloved disciple.)

But on Easter, after a day of riding bikes and playing video games, the 11-year-old boy who'd never had anything more serious than a head cold complained of a headache.

Nelson, who was home alone with Juan when his head began to hurt about 7 p.m., tried ice. Then Tylenol.

"He got dizzier and dizzier," said Nelson, who at first blamed the symptoms on a slightly undercooked hamburger and too much chocolate cake.

In the next few minutes, he looked at his son as the pain intensified and his olive skin turned white. He knew this was no ordinary headache.

"Papa call 911?" he asked.

"Yes, call 911," Juan responded, just before passing out.

As an ambulance rushed to the Millan home near the Suncoast Parkway, Nelson made a second call. It was to his wife, who was out running an errand.

"You'd better get home," he said. "Now."

By the time Juan arrived at University Community Hospital's pediatric care center, he was unconscious and paralyzed. A CT scan showed a brain bleed about 31/2 inches long and an inch wide, roughly the size of a stick of gum, on the left side, taking up about a quarter of his brain. The surgeon explained the condition: A brain artery deformation that Juan had been born with had ruptured. The condition is extremely rare, affecting one in 10,000 children. Many people end up paralyzed or unable to speak. Nelson and Alexandra prayed over the surgeon who was about to open the top of their son's skull.

"We asked God to guide her hands," they said.

The surgeon drained the blood and kept his blood pressure and temperature tightly regulated.

Two and a half days later, Juan's parents asked him whether he had to go the bathroom.

"No."

It was his first word.

- - -

Juan is a good student who likes spaghetti, riding bikes and playing baseball in a recreational league at Idlewild Baptist Church, where his family attends. He has a 4-year-old miniature Schnauzer, Maxx. He is well liked at Charles S. Rushe Middle School.

"He's one of my top students," said Rod Chamberlain, a geography teacher. "Before school, he jokes around with the other boys. But when it's time for class, he's serious. School is important to him."

When classmates returned the day after Easter, they found out Juan was in the hospital with a serious condition.

"They were worried," Chamberlain said. "But the fact that he made such a remarkable recovery makes it different."

Classmates immediately went to work on get-well cards.

"They want to send a big one they can all sign," Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain is accepting donations for a gift basket to be given to the family. It will include items such as games and DVDs to help Juan pass the time while he recovers; there will be gift cards to restaurants for his parents.

"He's in our thoughts and prayers," principal David Salerno said.

- - -

Dr. James Oslowski, who has practiced medicine for 37 years, has been amazed by Juan's rapid recovery.

"These are the cases you don't forget," said Oslowski, who is chief of pediatrics at University Community Hospital and has seen about 20 similar cases in his career. Most don't turn out this well. Five years ago, a 17-year-old was rushed in. He survived, but could not move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in his body.

"He was in a locked-in state," Oslowski said.

Oslowski stressed that while the condition is extremely serious, parents shouldn't necessarily panic at the first sign of a headache.

"It's extremely rare," he said.

He said the fact that Juan is so young has given him a real advantage. The brain can reprogram itself so that other parts take over the tasks that were once controlled by the damaged part.

"He can learn to do the jobs from the other side," he said. "I'd say his chances for returning to normal or near normal are very good."

- - -

Juan has been transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where he will remain in rehab for about two weeks.

Two days after he mostly napped in a SpongeBob SquarePants blanket, Juan was sitting in a room decorated in an ocean motif. The speech therapist placed flash cards on the table.

"Show me the sink," Kerrie Rigberg told Juan. He pointed it out.

"I use a sink to wash my ...," she said, letting him fill in the blank.

"Hands," he replied.

"Good," Rigberg said. She continued to show him pictures of people performing everyday tasks and asked him to identify them.

He got most right, but became flustered a few times.

"The part of your brain that is really strong is starting to work in overdrive," she said. "Slow down. You've got to work smart, not hard."

Alexandra smiled as her only child tried to identify the activities. Sometimes she can't help but wince in sympathy when he gets something wrong. The therapist reassured her that Juan is aware of his mistakes. His brain correctly identifies what he's seeing, but the part that controls speech is working to find the right words.

The 49-year-old dental hygienist watches her tween with the same pride she once felt as a new mom, when he first learned to roll over, walk and talk.

Juan was allowed to go home Saturday on a weekend pass, allowing him to spend part of the Mother's Day weekend with family. He is expected to return today to continue therapy. His mom invited a few friends over. And Maxx was waiting. She also planned to cook his favorite food, spaghetti.

She has no idea why her son survived so relatively unscathed, save for sheer divine intervention.

"With all the things we've been given," she said, "we definitely have to believe in God."

* * *

FAST FACTS

Help for family

The staff at Charles S. Rushe Middle School is gathering donations toward a gift basket for the Millans. Cash or gift cards may be donated at the school or mailed to 18654 Mentmore Blvd., Land O'Lakes, FL 34638. For information, call (813) 346-1200.

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