TWIN FALLS — While peers in her art class were painting a senior mural, Aliza Conder was recovering from brain surgery.
After having an out-of-the blue seizure in February and finding out she had a brain mass, Conder underwent brain surgery March 27 in Boise.
She missed a month of classes at Twin Falls High School. Then, she had the daunting task of catching up on schoolwork.
The 18-year-old still experiences bad headaches and sleeps a lot.
“I just don’t have a ton of stamina to do things,” she said, between going to school all day and doing homework at night.
But Conder has reached a major milestone: She’s among 215 students graduating Tuesday from Twin Falls High.
Her problems started Feb. 3 at a hotel in Salt Lake City when Conder had a seizure in her sleep.
Her friend was still awake and saw it happen, but Conder has no memory of it.
Conder’s pediatrician — a close family friend — happened to be at the hotel, too, and told her undersleeping can sometimes cause seizures.
He ordered an electroencephalogram, more commonly called an EEG, which measures electrical activity in the brain.
The results came back with moderate to severe abnormalities. And an MRI revealed she had a mass on the front left side of her brain, near the area that controls speech.
She went through more tests, including an angiogram to look at blood flow through her blood vessels.
Conder underwent surgery in late March, just after spring break. A small part of her skull was removed during the surgery. She spent two nights in intensive care before heading home.
“The worst thing is you can’t even touch your head at all,” Conder said, recalling the recovery process.
For four weeks after the surgery, Conder slept and experienced a lot of nausea.
Now, you can’t see her incision at all because it’s covered by her long hair. But Conder said that area of her head is still tender, and she can feel a dent in her skull.
Doctors said it may take five years before she feels normal again.
While recovering, Conder missed school activities, such as a spirit week. Plus, she missed participating in that senior mural project with her art class, which she looked forward to for four years.
“I was bummed about that one,” she said.
Conder went back to Twin Falls High gradually this spring, starting with one or two classes each day and then moving up to half a day.
She didn’t go back to her full-time schedule until about three weeks ago.
Once back at school, she was “pounded with homework,” she said, to catch up on.
“A lot of my teachers have been really, really great,” Conder said. She describes her math teacher Gala Bortz as a “saint.”
Bortz told her not to do math assignments while recovering at home, and that they’d pick up where she left off when she returned to school.
“Obviously, she’s amazing,” Bortz said about her student. “Her resolve to go ahead and finish her education has been inspiring, I think, for lots of other students.”
Even before Conder knew she was sick, she was a hard worker. Bortz teaches Conder in a pre-calculus class.
Bortz carved out one-on-one time to work with Conder and help her catch up on the essential curriculum, with realistic expectations in mind.
She created a plan for Conder, who worked independently on it.
Conder’s bright smile and optimist attitude”has definitely helped her,” Bortz said. And her fellow students love her for her friendly and compassionate nature.
Conder, who has lived in Twin Falls since she was about 3 years old, has been active in activities at Twin Falls High and the community. She took art classes for four years at Twin Falls High, is a member of National Honor Society and an ambassador for the Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. She participates as a chamber ambassador with a couple of her friends.
“That has been a really fun thing this year,” she said, and she had the chance to hear U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, speak.
Conder hopes to get off her anti-seizure medication soon. But she still has plenty more medical tests and appointments.
This fall, she plans to teach English in China. Her doctors are sending her with medications — just in case something goes wrong.
When she returns to the United States, Conder will enroll at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah, where she received a scholarship.
She’s interested in studying either elementary education or anesthesiology.
Once Conder gets to college, she wants to explore her options. “I’m ready to take a bunch of classes,” she said.
Conder has the upbeat optimism so many graduates have this time of year. And despite her obstacles, she’s ready to dive into the next chapter of her life.