GLADSTONE, Mo. -- High school graduation is more than just a milestone for one Northland teen and his family. It's a celebration of life since he nearly died in January.
The thin gap in Drew Witherspoon's hair is the only physical hint of his nightmare this past winter.
"Thinking back from January laying in the bed, it's surreal to be here," said Witherspoon.
He was missing part of his skull then. Surgeons had to go into his brain twice to save his life. They removed infection there that had spread from his sinuses. He also developed sepsis, a blood infection that nearly killed him.
Physically, Witherspoon is himself again, but mentally?
"There is substantial brain damage like short-term memory loss. He has to be reminded sometimes about certain things," said his mother, Monika Witherspoon.
But several months of therapy brought big improvements.
"It was to better myself, so I had to put up with it and work hard," Witherspoon said.
He had surgery in March to replace the missing piece of skull. He no longer needs to wear a helmet to protect his brain. That's a good thing since he's donning one special cap and a gown, too. Witherspoon will graduate from North Kansas City High School on Wednesday. He completed requirements for graduation before his illness. But the lessons he's learned in recent months are different than for most seniors.
"I learned not to take anything for granted, and to make the most out of the little things in life," he said.
And the big things like going to prom and graduation.
"Seeing him walk across the stage -- to the next parent, it's just a graduation. But to me, it's showing that he's determined to push on," said his mother.
The kid with the gap in his hair says he wants to become a barber.