Kaitlyn Ewan’s story starts when she was 13 years old and started getting migraines. She had what she calls her first “world-ending moment” when a neurologist told her that she had a brain tumor. Though it was diagnosed as non-cancerous and benign, she was not yet ready to deal with a brain tumor.
The Fort Collins native was able to manage the migraines, get regular scans, and compartmentalize that part of her life. But the experience made her decide to become a neurosurgeon, to help people dealing with the same thing. She enrolled at Colorado State University and declared a psychology major with a pre-med track.
Ewan’s second “world-ending moment” came during her second year at CSU.
During the summer of 2016, she visited a new neurologist, who recommended she see a neurosurgeon. At her first appointment, Ewan was told her tumor had been misdiagnosed and that she needed surgery as soon as possible.
After a few months of talking to her family and friends, Ewan decided to go ahead with the surgery. The complications started immediately. Her nose would not stop bleeding. Doctors told her that it was likely allergies or a thinning blood clot, but Ewan says she “was not okay at all.”
Ten days later, Ewan went to the emergency room, where she didn’t even take three steps before hitting the floor. The ER staff couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. She was in respiratory system failure and had two emergency blood transfusions.
The situation soon became even more dire. Her blood pressure dropped so low that it could not be read, and she lost two liters of blood. Ewan had to have emergency surgery without drugs, because her blood pressure was so low.
But it all came to a sudden stop when an ENT doctor was able to use a “rocket” to compress the artery and stop the bleeding. Ewan stayed in the hospital overnight, didn’t experience any more bleeding, and was able to go home two days later.
“It was such an out-of-body experience,” Ewan says. “But then it just all stopped and it was fine and it was the most bizarre thing ever.”
‘I’m on the right path’
Despite experiencing continuing complications, including post-traumatic stress and a staph infection from the ER, Ewan took no time off and went back to school for the spring 2017 semester. She took the challenging Principles of Human Physiology course and ended with a grade of 107 percent, to prove to herself that she could.
“I decided in that moment I didn’t want to be a neurosurgeon anymore – I didn’t want to have someone’s life in my hands,” she says. “But I did still want to help people. I dropped pre-med, kept psychology and added social work as a second major so that I could do hospital social work.”
Ewan has continued to excel in school while also working for Foothills Gateway and in her field-placement with child protective services. She is earning not just a double major, but two degrees (which comes with earning 150-plus credits). In March, she flew to Florida to present at a Phi Alpha Honor Society conference, where she was honored as the first-place winner of the Phi Alpha Patty Gibbs Wahlberg BSW Scholarship.
Ewan says her work at Foothills Gateway, which is a community nonprofit serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has been challenging, but worth it.
“It’s extremely intense and trying work, but I feel like I’m finally doing what I need to be doing,” she says. “Even though I had that plan freshman year of being a neurosurgeon, I don’t know if I was really passionate about it like I am about this. I feel like I’m on the right path.”
In May, just two days after graduating, Ewan will be starting her Advanced Standing Masters in Social Work program.