The tale behind Beaver Stickz
Young boy’s rehabilitation after brain surgery included hiking
BY AMBER SMITH
Asher Anken was a 6-year-old taking gymnastics classes in December 2019 when his coach noticed something unusual.
He couldn’t bear weight on his left arm or leg, and he was having trouble moving.
Asher’s pediatrician told his parents to bring him to the pediatric emergency department at Upstate University Hospital. Pediatric neurologists examined the young boy, and medical images revealed a large mass in his brain stem.
During a four-day stay in the pediatric intensive care unit, Asher underwent additional testing.
The mass turned out to be a cluster of abnormal blood vessels called a cavernoma. Not only did Asher have this rare malformation in his brain, it was situated in an area of the brain where cavernomas are difficult to treat. It was also bleeding.
A blood clot was putting pressure on the nerve fibers going through the brain stem to the extremities and cranial nerves, which was why he was having weakness on his left side.
Virginia Whitford is Asher’s mother. She remembers meeting with neurosurgeon Satish Krishnamurthy, MD. Given time, the blood clot might dissipate on its own, so the plan was to let the family return to their home in Deansboro, Oneida County, with plans to have Asher undergo another MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, a month later to see whether the cavernoma had stopped bleeding.
“Dr. Krishnamurthy is just absolutely incredible in terms of bedside manner and making the right decisions at the right times. He provided just really incredible care,” Whitford says.
They returned to the emergency department on Feb. 1, when Asher started slurring his speech and vomiting. Krishnamurthy operated a few days later.
In a six-hour procedure, he was able to remove the clot and a good portion of the cavernoma. But several days later, he had to take Asher back to the operating room. The remaining cavernoma had formed an additional clot that had to be removed.
Whitford says after a month recovering in the pediatric intensive care unit, Asher was ready for intensive rehabilitation in the hospital. By mid-March, he was able to return home.
As he built up his strength, Asher wanted to go hiking with his family. It was mid-April, and his mom recalls that first hike “was a really hard hike for him.” That’s when he found a stick that had been gnawed on by a beaver that was just the right height for him to use on the hike.
He got an idea.
Asher decided to sell beaver sticks -- at www.BeaverStickz.com -- and return half of the profits to the hospital as a way of giving back.
Whitford says her father, Asher’s grandfather Ron Whitford, is a carpenter who helps in the endeavor, and so does Asher’s stepdad, Josh Lewis. Adult-sized sticks are $25. Kid-sized sticks are $20. And the website has an offer to “Pay what you can afford.”
Two years after his surgeries, Asher is in second grade at Madison Central School, where he continues to receive physical and occupational therapy. He also sees Krishnamurthy and has MRI scans regularly.
“He’s very, very blessed,” Whitford says of her son. “He has a very supportive family and extended family, and a very supportive school. He’s got a lot of angels around him.”