FARMINGTON — Tarek Haines still gets headaches and has double vision at times. He is working to regain strength in his right side.

The Mt. Blue Middle School seventh-grader collapsed in October after running a lap during a youth football practice. In the days that ensued — and three hospitals later — doctors discovered he had had four strokes when pieces of a tumor broke off and went to his brain. He had open-heart surgery to remove the tumor at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is home and going through physical and occupational therapy.

“I did a lap like we do every football practice,” the 12-year-old said. “I started getting very dizzy, light-headed. I could hear myself breathe. My face was numb. I could not feel my teeth.”

His mother, Charity Haines, said she had dropped her son off at football practice and went to the nearby Mt. Blue Campus to take college courses. She had just arrived when she received a text message asking her to come back to the field.

When she was told to drive on to the field, she knew something was terribly wrong.

An athletic trainer told her to take her son to the emergency room. He was thought to be dehydrated.


“It took four of us to get him up,” Charity Haines said.

Once Tarek got to the car, he started heaving. His mother noticed problems with his speech, and he complained of a massive headache, she said.

“I was conscious the whole time,” Tarek said.

Charity Haines thought it might be a stroke but was told that since he was only 12, it was unlikely.

The medical staff did a CAT scan and found spots on his brain. His mother’s suspicion had been right: He had had three strokes.

He was taken by ambulance to a Portland hospital for further treatment. Another test was performed, which revealed that he had a tumor in his heart.


“In part of my mind, I knew,” Charity said. “I am a nurse. I had to pull myself together for him.”

When she was told he had three strokes, “I lost it,” she said.

She then learned her son needed open-heart surgery.

“I don’t think I’ve cried so much in my life,” she said.

He was taken by ambulance to the Boston hospital. A neurologist found a fourth stroke had occurred in his neck. That one affected his balance and vision, Haines said.

A team of doctors kept the family informed of what was going on, right up to the first incision they cut in his chest, she said.


She and Tarek’s father, Jason Haines, were the first people to see him once he was settled in recovery.

“It is really hard to see your child lying there on a ventilator and all these wires and tubes hooked to him,” Charity said. “At first, they had no idea if he would survive. I knew it was a real possibility my son would not come back out of surgery.”

The family has tried to stay positive, including Tarek’s 8-year-old sister, Shaylea.

“There is always the possibility of something dangerous happening,” Jason Haines said. “You don’t want to think about it. You have to stay positive. There are so many tears to begin with. He has been our drive.”

Tarek wants to be back at school, Jason said. He wants to play football.

“We’re just making sure he can do what he needs to do,” his father said.


The family still has many questions.

“Will the tumor grow back?” Charity asked. “Will the pieces in the brain move?” 

With the type of strokes he had, they cannot go in and break up the pieces of tumor, she said.

They hope to find the answers during Tarek’s upcoming appointments in Boston and Portland.

“I don’t really remember a lot,” said Tarek, who had been medicated at the time. “I couldn’t walk for a couple of weeks.” 

He returned home in early November.


Within 24 hours, he was back in the Portland hospital. He had inflammation and fluid around his heart, chest pains and a high fever, his mother said.

That hurt, he said.

Now he’s on the mend. But when he gets tired, he has double vision.

He is walking OK, he said. He is hoping to go back to school for half-days after the first of the year.

“I have a long way to go,” Tarek said.

The community has been amazing in its support, his mother said.

“It has been overwhelming,” she said. “I am very grateful.” 

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