Amazing racer: Soap Box champ returns after stroke


Something wasn’t right.

On Dec. 8, 2014, 11-year-old Haley Lawhorn was riding bikes with friends but didn’t feel well.

Suddenly, she collapsed.

One of her friends rushed off to get Haley’s mother, who came as quickly as possible to her side.

“At the beginning, I had no way of knowing what it was,” said Haley’s mother, Valerye Lawhorn. “I had no idea what to do or feel. I didn’t know if this was the last time I would see my baby, the last time I would hear her voice.”

Haley, a busy preteen who last year won a local Soap Box Derby Championship, said it felt like her arms and legs had fallen off.

She drifted in and out of responsiveness. She didn’t speak much, but when she did, she would say things like, “No … no … oh my God, no.”

Valerye soon found out that her youngest daughter had experienced a rupture of the blood vessels in the left frontal lobe of her brain, which caused hemorrhaging and a stroke that impaired control of the right side of her body.

Haley was transported to Salem Hospital and later airlifted to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. The medical team had difficultly stabilizing her, since there was so much blood pooling in her brain. It took four days to fully drain.

Doctors determined that she had a ruptured AVM, or arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal connection between an artery and a vein. Not only did she have the ruptured AVM, but the doctors found a second one that had formed, but not yet broken. It might have been there her whole life, and they just didn’t know about it, the family was told.

“She was a walking time-bomb,” Lawhorn said.

Though the doctors were able to remove both growths, they weren’t sure what the long-term effects might be.

After months of intensive therapy, Haley has improved drastically. She continues to serve as the youngest volunteer at a local horse therapy center, and she dreams of pursuing a career in acting and modeling.

Additionally, she climbed back into her soap box car again Sunday, June 14 for the 64th annual Salem Soap Box Derby Local Championship.

Haley has been racing since she was about 7 years old. She won the stock division race in Salem in 2014 and continued on to the world championships in Akron, Ohio later that year. But after the AVM rupture, she didn’t know if she would ever race again — or what she would get to do in general.

Though Haley now has about 99 percent control of her right leg back, she still is working through the difficulties with her right hand, improving each day with smaller tasks, such as brushing her hair or opening a car door with her right hand. Her family helped her make modifications to her car — such as switching the brake to be left-leg-operated — so she had less to worry about in the race.

“Some things you don’t ever think you’ll do again,” Lawhorn said.

However, racing didn’t have to be one of the things. This year, Haley finished in sixth in the stock division.

Though she wasn’t planning on racing this year, her sister and her sister’s friend raced last year in order for there to be enough kids for the race to happen. They had done that for Haley, and now it was her turn to return the favor. She raced if nothing else but to make sure other kids had the opportunity to race too.

Lawhorn said she is very proud of her daughter, saying Haley doesn’t let anything get her down.

“She is by far one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” she said.

Though AVMs are not common, Lawhorn said what happened to her daughter could happen to anyone, at any age, and it is important to know the signs.

“These are the things that change who we are,” she said. “Maybe (Haley) will become the next great neurosurgeon, or doctor. Or maybe someone going through something similar will read her story and know they do not have to do it alone.” or (503) 399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: