Brave. Inspiring. Heroic.

These words best describe Khayden Otter-Rupert in his courageous battle to live.

The little fighter from Waswanipi has been struggling for a normal life for over two-and-a-half years. During that time, he has had several surgeries to repair his heavily damaged skull. In the latest one, doctors removed two of the little boy’s ribs, split them and re-built the left side of his cranium to protect his vulnerable head.

Dr. Montes of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who worked on Khayden, explained the need for the surgery.

“He was very sick when he first got here [in February 2004],” said Dr. Montes. “We had to take off the bone flap of the craniotomy. We had to make a big bag to give space to the brain because it was extremely swollen and leave the bone out because if we put it back the pressure in the brain would go very high,” said Dr. Montes, who admitted that if the inter-cranial pressure of 50 climbed to 60, Khayden would not have made it. Normal pressure is around 15.

“He got a local infection, but it wasn’t serious. Once everything was clean, we put the bone back. Half of the bone survived,” he said.

The problem, Dr. Montes told the Nation, is when the bone is taken out it’s not in contact with blood or nutrients anymore. Even though it was frozen and doctors tried to preserve the structure and bone cells, quite often the bone doesn’t survive.

“Then when we put it back the bone disappeared,” Dr. Montes continued. “He lost half of the bone flap. The interior half took and that survived, but the back part disappeared and he had a big hole there. As we had to remove quite a big part of the brain on that side, his scalp really sunk in. It didn’t look good. Plus if he got another injury there, he could get seriously hurt.”

He is recovering very well after the most recent surgery. Khayden was vibrant and playful during a visit to the hospital by the Nation. He didn’t seem to care that he had just underwent a five-hour surgery, nor does he realize how many people are praying for him to pull through. He was quite content to play with his toys and video games.

“I’m happy for him that he’s doing well,” said his mother Judy. “I was nervous because the operation took five hours and the doctor had said it would take two hours.”

She could hardly contain herself during the long wait. “He almost made me cry when I saw him, with his head like that. The doctors did their best and I hope he’s going to be alright.”

The incident that changed Khayden’s life occurred February 8, 2004, when his foster father, Trevor Spencer, severely assaulted the toddler at least twice on the head with a stick.

Spencer pled guilty October 26, 2004, and was sentenced to 54 months in prison on January 11, 2005. He is currently free and believed to be living in Western Canada.

The prognosis for Khayden is good and bad, according to Dr. Montes.

“He’s progressing all the time and he’s walking quite well now,” he said. “He’s always going to be paralyzed on the right side. That we cannot recover. But as you see, he has learned to function with his left very well. He walks and he runs. He doesn’t have fine finger movements, but he helps himself with that hand. He is also missing the right visual field, but has learned to compensate very well. He doesn’t bump into things and he runs straight.”

Dr. Montes also said that the operation would only be deemed a success after a few months of monitoring Khayden. They will have to keep an eye on the amount of spinal fluid that builds up in his head. The fluid is drained by a shunt, which is the tube that transfers the liquid from the left side of his head into his abdominal cavity.

“It’s been hard for us in and out of the hospital. I can’t sleep, I’m always thinking about him,” said Judy.