The path to a high school diploma takes a number of twists and turns for many teenagers. A range of learning disabilities, a difficult home life, a death in the family and over the past few years, working through a pandemic that restricted learning to the kitchen table.
Just a sampling of the challenges that are seen among a typical student population.
Few stories can match what Kyron Amerling has gone through to take the diploma walk this weekend with Philomath High School’s Class of 2022.
Six years ago when he was 12 years old, Kyron survived a horrific accident on a four-wheeler that in the beginning appeared as though it would take his life. But he made it after learning how to walk, talk and eat all over again, undergoing surgery to reconstruct his face and conquering one obstacle after another.
“I just take it day by day and move on … move strong,” Kyron, 18, said last week during an interview in the Philomath home of his grandmother. “Just remember — we fight, we conquer, we love and there’s always angels over your heads and in prayers.”
Philomath High School’s graduation is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Clemens Field. This year’s class will feature 77 seniors that will be turning their tassels.
The son of Kasandra Lauzon and Jeffrey Amerling and a brother to several siblings on both sides of his family, Kyron’s life changed in August 2016 while riding a quad on the family’s rural property in the Hoskins vicinity. He was a typical kid with a thirst for fun, a lot of friends and a love of athletics. Baseball was his game and within those next few weeks he was planning to start fall ball. He was also getting ready for his eighth grade year at Kings Valley Charter School.
Then the accident happened.
The boys were wanting to ride quads on that summer day, Kyron’s mom said, recalling that she asked them to stay up high in a pasture area that had no trees. But kids will be kids and they ventured down to the lower part of the pasture.
“I guess they were throwing apples at each other and Kyron wasn’t paying attention and going too fast and crashed into a tree,” she said. “I was making spaghetti at the time and for some reason, I knew something was wrong and I told my ex to go check on the boys. He walked outside and all he heard was screaming.”
They immediately jumped into their pickup and drove toward the pasture.
“I ended up jumping out of the truck and ran over to where Kyron was and told them that they needed to call 911,” she said.
Lauzon knew the situation was dire and was afraid Kyron wasn’t going to make it. She immediately requested transport to the hospital via life flight but was told that wasn’t an option. However, emergency responders got to the scene to see the severity of Kyron’s injuries and made the life flight request happen.
“It seemed like forever,” Lauzon said. “At the time, I kept hitting Kyron and pinching him to keep him awake. I didn’t move him at all because he was really banged up. He was leaning over his quad at the time.”
Coincidentally, when the crash occurred, a couple from Dallas had been in the immediate area.
“They were actually going to the coast for the day but they ended up deciding that they wanted to go find a swimming hole because it was warm,” Lauzon said. “They were out on the road and they were watching the boys ride the quads and saw Kyron hit the tree and ended up jumping over the fence and running to them.”
The couple stepped in to help.
“They basically kept him alive until we were able to get down there,” Lauzon said. “And then I was pulling him up trying to keep him alive until the EMTs got there.”
Because of weight limitations, Lauzon could not fly in the helicopter with Kyron, who was initially taken to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. There, they got him comfortable and took some X-rays before he was flown to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
At some point while in the air, Kyron had suffered a seizure, Lauzon was told.
“I’m assuming he stopped breathing because when he got off the flight, he was actually intubated,” she said.
Those first hours were agonizing.
Said Lauzon, “When we got up to Doernbecher and met with a doctor, we met in a conference room and I had asked the doctor, ‘can you tell us anything?’ He said at this time, ‘it doesn’t look good’ and it just went from there.”
Lauzon said he wasn’t wearing a helmet when the crash occurred.
“The doctor had told us that they think if Kyron had been wearing a helmet, he probably would’ve been paralyzed or passed away because most people don’t wear helmets that actually fit their head,” Lauzon said. “So the way he hit the tree, it probably would have snapped his neck in half is what the doctor had told us based on the injuries that he had sustained.”
He spent the first two weeks in the intensive care unit before moving to a different floor for a couple of more weeks at Doernbecher.
“Then we actually ended up going to Randall Children’s Hospital for therapy because Kyron was learning how to walk and everything,” Lauzon said.
In all, he spent 54 days in the hospital.
Kyron underwent surgery for 16 hours for doctors to reconstruct his face.
“They actually waited a week to do his surgery because they wanted to wait for the swelling and everything to go down on his brain because there was so much trauma and they didn’t know what to do,” Lauzon said. “Actually, Kyron’s face isn’t the same. I mean, his facial features are … his nose is his nose from when he was a little kid — they had to reconstruct that. They actually had to go by a picture because he was so damaged that they had no idea.”
Kyron said he remembers nothing about the crash.
Today, he lives with the effects of a full traumatic brain injury. The injuries left him legally blind in his left eye and with 30% vision in his right eye. He’s also deaf in his left ear and half of his face is paralyzed.
“They actually declared Kyron blind at one time, so they weren’t expecting him to ever see again,” she said.
After those first comments from the children’s hospital doctor about Kyron’s chances, Lauzon said it’s a miracle that he’s here today.
“Kyron had to relearn how to walk and talk and eat,” Lauzon said. “Even though he’s 18, his mentality is like that of a 12-year-old, even though he tries to be 18. He goes back and forth and I think it’s just because of how old he was when the accident happened.”
It was around January 2017 when Kyron began to fully walk and moved on from a feeding tube to regular food.
“I used to go to Kings Valley Charter School and my mom always used to come with me because I was learning how to walk,” Kyron said. “My last day of school, my mom told me to go by myself.”
It was on that day that Kyron reached the goal of being able to get around on his own. The school year was not easy with him missing a significant number of days through those first weeks. Mom stepped in to help with not only walking but also academics.
“I actually went to eighth grade for most of the year with Kyron and then we started gradually having him go by himself,” she said. “I actually got a job at the school district so that I could be nearby.”
Kyron started his freshman year at Kings Valley before deciding that Philomath would be a better fit.
“I had heard really good things about the Life Skills program at Philomath High School,” Lauzon said.
Kyron got through his freshman year and part of his sophomore year at Philomath and it was March 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions went into effect. However, he actually started learning at home two months before the pandemic closed down campuses.
“I took him out a little bit before that because there were people that were making fun of Kyron for his disabilities,” Lauzon said. “They couldn’t deal with the kids that were actually making fun of Kyron and it was causing escalations at home.”
This final year as a senior, Kyron went back to the classroom but again had negative experiences with bullying.
“There were instances when Kyron did speeches in front of his class and Kyron can’t pronounce the words correctly or with a stutter or be slow with what he’s saying and kids would laugh in the class and make fun of him,” Lauzon said. “So it’s just been an ongoing battle.”
After those types of incidents, Kyron’s time on campus was limited to fewer hours and periods in a school day.
“I wish kids weren’t mean and kids were more understanding and actually got to know Kyron,” his mom said. “Kyron has a huge heart.”
Many schools, Philomath included, have made efforts to try to stop bullying and promote understanding of classmates that have the types of challenges that Kyron’s taken on. A number of students embrace those values but there are others that do not and so the life of a young person who is perceived as being different can be difficult.
“It’s sad … Kyron used to be an avid baseball player — that was our life before his accident,” Lauzon said, overcome with emotion in the moment. “Kyron had many, many, many friends. And now he has maybe like three, so that’s been hard to watch.”
Kyron enjoys sports with participation in basketball, softball and Special Olympics along with several other competitive activities, such as bowling and shooting. He also enjoys lifting weights and works out at a local Crossfit gym — although he’s currently sidelined after breaking his ankle while playing softball.
Kyron has plans for life after high school. Although he said he has more research to do on the possibilities, he hopes to get into the gunsmithing trade.
“That’s what I want to do … it’s my passion,” Kyron said.
Kyron’s been a part of Kings Valley’s trapshooting program — Lauzon’s other two boys go to school there and he was able to get on the team.
Beyond his pursuit of learning a trade, Kyron receives one-on-one guidance from an in-home caregiver Monday through Friday.
“People just need to realize to never give up and just keep on fighting,” Lauzon said, asked if she has a message that she wants to share after everything that happened. “And life is precious. And be kind to people.”
So, how’s Kyron going to feel when he takes the diploma walk?
“I’m going to be ready,” Kyron said, “and just sit down and relax.”