Logan Kappes smiles and gives two thumbs up as he sits on the back patio of his Robinson home, discussing his college plans with his mother, Nicole Kappes.
He points to the side of his head, showing a zigzagging scar that arches across his scalp from the tip of one ear to the other.
He gives another bashful grin as his mother talks about his tenacity and shows off his senior portraits propped up on the coffee table in front of him.
At 19, Logan is a walking anomaly.
No one knew how severely his cognitive abilities would be affected after three major surgeries, including two brain surgeries, shortly before he started high school.
And no one knew whether the Robinson Independent School District graduate would be able to get through high school.
“He has a very strong work ethic and determination. Logan has the best sense of humor and personality,” his Robinson High School counselor, Anne-Marie Zellers, said. “He wanted to challenge himself all the way through school and would not take the easy road.”
Shortly before high school, doctors discovered a series of conditions affecting Logan, including two rare neural issues.
His future was all a game of what if and maybe, and he has defied all the doubt, his family and school officials said.
He graduated May 27 as a member of the National Honor Society, with a 3.97 GPA, and even earned a couple of scholarships, he said.
“It was nerve-racking. It was kind of like the last step of childhood and a first step for adulthood,” Logan said. “I want to be a history major, hopefully a professor or a high school history teacher. Hopefully, a professor though. Better pay.”
With a grin from ear to ear, he laughed and said he’s at McLennan Community College now and already has some dual-credit courses under his belt. He plans to transfer to the University of South Carolina or Duke University, two colleges that rank high on his scale of quality history programs where he can earn a doctoral degree, he said.
“I like seeing what happened before, that way our society will not make the same mistakes again,” Logan said. “The reason I want to teach is to mold the minds of future generations.”
Logan was a straight-A, quiet student with no previous behavioral issues, but something changed in eighth grade. His grades began to drop, and he had a few disciplinary incidents, which alerted his parents, his mother said.
He started having headaches. The pain was always in the back of his head and severe enough that Nicole Kappes could hear her son fall to the floor in agony from the other side of their house and cry her name, she said.
“It was like a cow prod or something getting shoved into the back of your head,” Logan said. “I’d be fine one minute. Then 20 minutes later, it would hit again.”
He had gone through several surgeries as a young child to deal with benign tumors, called hemangiomas, that damaged his left eye, but was otherwise healthy, Nicole Kappes said. Trips to the ER in 2012 didn’t show anything new, but a school nurse urged them to have an MRI done. When they met their insurance deductible, they had one done at Cook Children’s Medical Center, Nicole Kappes said.
She was prepared for the worst when the head of neurology at Cook called at 6 p.m. the Thursday after Christmas and told her to get a pen, she said.
Doctors discovered a 4-millimeter aneurysm in an artery in the middle of Logan’s forehead. If it were to rupture, it could be fatal or at the very least damage his good eye, but because of the location, doctors can’t operate on Logan, his mother said.
But the aneurysm wasn’t causing his headaches.
“At this point, we don’t really worry about it,” Nicole Kappes said. “It is scary, but it was the least of our worries at the time.”
Doctors discovered part of the back of his skull was misshapen, putting pressure on his brain and forcing brain tissue downward into his spinal canal, Nicole Kappes said. Called a Chiari malformation, the condition is considered uncommon, and people often don’t show symptoms until late childhood or adulthood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“People with Chiari like to say their brains are too big, too much to contain, like they’re too smart,” she said. “You have to remember, he did first grade twice. He has no heel-to-toe. He doesn’t drive that much, but if he gets pulled over, and they heel-to-toe him, he’s going to fail it. I had him in speech since he was 3, before he started kindergarten. He needed it. . . . The person working with him then said it wasn’t this or it wasn’t that, and labeled it as bizarre. It was the Chiari.
“It’s irreversible. . . . There were just a lot of things that once you get all these diagnosis, you’re like, ‘Oh’ and you start thinking back and wondering what you could have done if you had known earlier.”
Logan had first brain surgery to protect his spinal cord in March 2013. That was when the Kappeses’ world turned upside down, and Logan’s goals had to take a different direction, he said.
What was meant to be a three-hour surgery turned into a seven-hour surgery after complications landed him in the intensive care unit, his mother said.
Two months later, he needed emergency surgery to remove a hemangioma hidden under his face, she said. Logan’s last brain surgery was in August 2013, and he wouldn’t return to school to start ninth grade until January 2014, she said.
“He had a frontal encephalocele. That’s a 10 days post-conception neural tube defect that’s a hole in the front of the skull through which brain matter pushes,” Nicole Kappes said, holding his medical documents in her lap. “It’s common in Asia and Africa and results in a low IQ. My kid is in North America and in the National Honor Society. Out of everything he’s had, he has a hole in the front of his skull since in utero. He’s an anomaly.
“Everything about him is irregular and what ifs, yet he never, and I swore I was going to get through this without crying, he never fails to amaze me,” Nicole Kappes said. “No matter what challenges are thrown up, he kicks its a--.”
Doctors also diagnosed Logan Kappes with Scheuermann’s disease, which keeps his back rounded and prevents him from sitting up straight without pain, and PHACE syndrome, which includes cardiac issues related to the hemangiomas. And shortly before his last surgery, Logan was diagnosed with autism and a lack of working memory.
“No working memory is where you say something like, ‘Take out the trash, take your medicine and feed the dogs.’ He’s going to turn and either forget one part or all of that,” Nicole Kappes said. “The autism diagnosis was a blessing. He had more than the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had more than any grown man would want to have, but this kind of served as a buffer, like at a bowling alley. Stuff doesn’t keep him awake at night. He doesn’t worry about it. He’s pure as the driven snow.”
When Logan finally returned to school, he worked closely with his teachers and counselors to keep his grades up, and eventually enrolled in dual-credit courses. He often used an iPad to do classwork and focused on passing everything with a 92 or better, he said. He even landed his first job at GameStop and held it for three years before landing his second job at a Sonic restaurant in the past two weeks not far from home, he said.
MCC history professor Jeremy Lehman had Logan for two dual-credit classes and wasn’t aware of the uphill battle his student faced until classes were over, he said.
“It didn’t show itself in any way that affected his ability to do his work,” Lehman said. “I saw him as just anyone else, and I admire him for it. He was just this good-natured kid who was really talented in my class.
“I saw this tremendous eagerness to perform at a high level in his class. He always did his work really fast. He did his work at a high level but also would finish his work before anybody else. I was always impressed with him.”
Logan could go the rest of his life and have a surgery every year or never have another issue, his mother said. There’s no way to tell, and doctors didn’t speculate how his life could turn out, Nicole Kappes said. She refuses to let the fear of the unknown come into any conversation.
“This kid is so amazing. Thank God he’s not normal,” she said. “Normal is nothing but a setting on a dryer.”
She had to put it into Logan’s perspective, though, Nicole Kappes said. So she turned to the subject he loves most: military history. She asked him what kind of soldiers were picked for battle, and he said the ones who enlist or volunteer. She asked again, and he said, “The good ones.”
“I don’t know why, but you’ve been picked,” she said. “I don’t know why you’ve been given it all, but you’ve been given it all and they’re your battles to choose, your testimony to make, your story to tell. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end, but whatever your story is, it’s amazing.”
Humble in nature, Logan smiled again and said there are other people his mother could brag about, like his three younger siblings. He doesn’t like being the center of attention, but he’s excited for his future, he said.
“Dr. Kappes, Ph.D.,” he said with a chuckle.