After several surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation, this 12-year-old Palm Coast boy has his eyes on the prize.
There is strength in Cameron Higgins' eyes.
You can see it as the 12-year-old raises his head to meet your gaze straight-on, even as he fumbles around the handshake part.
You can see it in the way he follows the conversation intently, ready to add his own thoughts, or jump in to defend his greatest supporters: his mother and his grandmother.
And in how he calls himself "lucky" because he survived and still gets to be a kid.
"Yeah, I get tired sometimes," Cameron said, casting a glance to his mom, Ashley Higgins.
But in a recent interview in his Palm Coast home, Cameron also talked a lot about trying to overcome those challenges on a day-to-day basis.
"It's not as much as it used to be," Cameron added.
"That's true," his mother acknowledged. "You don't take naps like you used to, you know?"
Just over a year ago, Cameron Higgins suffered a life-threatening stroke due to an undetected arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which was basically a hemorrhage of a lesion on his brain.
The boy had to be life-flighted from Flagler Hospital Florida in early February 2016 to Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, where he underwent several surgeries to reduce the swelling and bleeding on his brain. He was in a coma for weeks, unable to move his head back and forth, and couldn't speak for almost a month.
Ashley Higgins recalled the day her mother, Tana Fraser, called her to put Cameron on the phone to talk with her.
"He said, 'Hi mom, I love you,'" recalled Higgins, "and that was everything."
Those kind of milestones — talking, walking, even grasping a hand — have gone backward for this mom, who saw her son do all of them years before, but was so overjoyed to see him achieve these developmental mile markers again in his recovery.
"He's come a long way all these months," said Higgins, tearing up. "And I'm so proud of him. ... It's just so crazy to see how just last year it took five people to be able to help him sit up on the side of the bed, and that he's actually walking now."
These days, Cameron attends school for a half day at Indian Trails Middle School, where his mom said he is meeting almost all of the seventh-grade requirements. He uses a wheelchair to get around the campus, but when at home he is able to walk — albeit, unsteadily — to get around. His mom and grandmother — who moved to Georgia to help pitch in after Cameron's illness last year— take turns transporting him to appointments several times a week for physical therapy, occupational therapy and other rehab programs.
"I couldn't do it without my mother," said Higgins, adding, "She has sacrificed so much and devoted so much of her time, energy and love to not only Cameron, but to me as well."
Cameron leads the life of a normal 12-year-old, is a big fan of shows like "SpongeBob" and "Lab Rats." He hopes to get back to his video-gaming skills, when his fingers have enough control. But he isn't outside playing or involved with Boy Scouts as he used to be, and that can't help but affect Higgins.
"As a mother, you envision a certain life for your children. When that vision is shattered, it is sometimes hard to accept a different picture."
"As a mother, you envision a certain life for your children," she said. "When that vision is shattered, it is sometimes hard to accept a different picture."
She worries about things like how Cameron will be able to go to his prom and dance with a girl.
The family still struggles financially. Higgins said that with her current salary as an administrator for the Grand Haven community, she is considered just above the threshold for Medicaid coverage, which dropped her a few months ago.
"And then the rates skyrocketed," said Higgins, who as a single mother is still trying to afford the $1,200 premium she is being asked to pay — no small amount when she is looking at orthopedic braces, as well as Botox injections that doctors recommend could improve his muscular stabilization as well.
Higgins was never one to want to put out her hand to ask for help. But she is grateful for all that's been done through family, friends, the community and their church to help them.
Even in her position at the administration building of Grand Haven, Ashley fields almost daily questions about how Cameron is doing.
"It's almost the first thing that people ask when they come into my office," said Higgins, smiling.
"Nine out of 10 people don't survive. But I did."
Ask Cameron himself about how he's doing, and he smiles bashfully, telling you he's doing his best. Ask him about the future, though. He knows he'll be doing much better. He's beaten the odds already at this point.
"Nine out of 10 people don't survive," Cameron said. "But I did."