The defender, who has aspirations of playing in college, woke up in the hospital two years ago with a shunt in her brain. She'll have it the rest of her life, but it's only made her appreciate life and soccer even more.

Share story

It started, two years ago, with a common headache that grew progressively more intense. It nearly changed the future of Kaylin Gaiser, a standout junior defender on the North Creek soccer team.

Ultimately, it sharpened her appreciation of life and her love of soccer.

“I was completely fine until one day, and it just felt like a normal headache throughout the day,” Gaiser said. “I just took some Advil, but it never really went away. As the night went on, it got a lot worse. I’ve never felt that kind of pain in my head.

“I just remember waking up in the ICU with my parents (Monique and Monty Gaiser) and not remembering a lot of what happened.”

It turned out to be a pinal cyst — a noncancerous growth — in the middle of her brain.

“We’re just enjoying watching her play more than ever,” Monty Gaiser said. “We could’ve lost her that day.”

Doctors did three surgeries in a short amount of time, determining with the second surgery that Gaiser had the cyst and that the best course of action was to place shunt on the right side of her brain. The shunt helps drain fluid from her brain through a tube — under her skin — and into her stomach.

A shunt is hidden under Kaylin Gaiser’s long dark hair. It hides the physical and emotional scars of a life-changing weekend that she and her family endured when the talented and rugged defender was 14. She will have the shunt the rest of her life.

“It was really scary, because when I woke up they had shaved part of my head, and there was a tube coming out of my head,” she said. “There was this big bag full of fluid. I didn’t even know how to react. I was crying as soon as I woke up. I didn’t know what was happening.”

The shunt doesn’t interfere mentally or physically, says Gaiser. The brand of shunt, the Medtronic Strata MR2, has been recalled because of drainage issues.

“Mine could stop working at any time, so I could have more surgery,” she said.

She’s still fearless as a player, and the lone goal of the season came via a header. She even missed two games this season because of a concussion as she collided with an opponent.

“She was asking about playing soccer pretty soon after she woke up,” Monique Gaiser said. “Being an athlete, she was very frustrated. Anytime, whenever neurology would come in, she would ask, ‘When can I play soccer again?’ Then when recovering at home, she kept asking.”

Every day now is cherished after a week in the hospital and months at home missing much of her freshman school year recovering.

“We’re pretty fortunate that after going through this she didn’t have any issues with speech or anything else,” Monty Gaiser said. “No one would blame if her if she didn’t keep playing soccer.”

Said Monique Gaiser: “After a week in the hospital, we had no idea what her future looked like. But she wasn’t going to let this stop her.”

After doctors cleared Gaiser, she returned to soccer in January of 2017, playing for her club team, Greater Seattle Surf. She now plays on the Seattle United U17 ECNL team.

“She went back out there like nothing had ever happened,” Monique said.

Gaiser is a big reason North Creek (6-4-2, 4-3-2 KingCo 4A) qualified for postseason play for the first time in its two-year existence with a fourth-place finish. They’ll play Monroe in a loser-out district qualifier at home Saturday.

Love of the game is apparent for Gaiser, the Jaguars’ center back.

“She plays with constant effort,” said Chalise Baysa, the Jaguars first-year coach who once played for the Sounders Women. “She’s an inspiration to her teammates.”

Gaiser is still hoping to reach her goal of playing college soccer.

“This really makes me take everything in and cherish every moment kind of,” she said. “It’s scary knowing I might have to have the shunt replaced, but it helps me live more and enjoy life. I didn’t want to give up soccer, because it’s like a part of me since I was 3.

“One step back I feel shouldn’t destroy all my dreams of going and playing college soccer. I don’t let this get in the way of my playing.”