Pennsylvania high school wrestler has emergency brain surgery hours after district match

(Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat (TNS)
  • A Pennsylvania high school wrestler had emergency brain surgery hours after a match on Saturday.
  • North Star's Keaton Furry had most of a cyst removed on Sunday morning.
  • The cyst was not believed to be cancerous. The medical team is optimistic about his prognosis.

Keaton Furry had a difficult match in the District 5 Class AA Team Wrestling Championships on Saturday.

North Star High School logo

It was nothing compared to the battle he faced hours later.

The North Star senior underwent emergency brain surgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh on Sunday morning to remove a cyst that caused him to slur his words and lose feeling in his legs.

While it’s still early in the recovery period, North Star wrestling coach Tim Rosa said Monday that the 17-year-old is doing well.

“We got to see him for a while today,” Rosa said. “He slept most of the day, but when we got there, he was awake, alert, cracking jokes, talking about hunting and fishing. He was the same old Keaton. To see him acting like himself was a real relief.”

The situation escalated quickly on Saturday. Furry had mentioned during the district duals contest in Bedford County that he had a headache, but it’s an issue that he’s dealt with for years, so it didn’t immediately raise any red flags.

Hours after he wrestled against Chestnut Ridge, Furry told his mother, Melissa, that his headache had gotten much worse.

“On the way home, he was crying, his head hurt so bad,” she said. “When we got home, all of a sudden, he started slurring his words and he made no sense.”

She immediately took him to Somerset Hospital. After some tests there, he was transferred to Allegheny General, where he underwent surgery Sunday morning.

Cyst not believed to be cancerous: The cyst, which was more than a centimeter in diameter, was not believed to be cancerous, and doctors were able to remove almost all of it, according to Rosa.

“There were parts of it wrapped around nerve endings that they weren’t able to get, but they cauterized those off,” Rosa said.

Amy M. Nielsen, Furry’s aunt, said in a Facebook message that the medical team at Allegheny General is optimistic about his prognosis.

“Thankfully they have not found any cancer and seem happy with his progress,” she said. “Keaton will be in intensive care for a while, but when awake he seems in pretty good spirits and his cognitive function seems good.”

A top wrestler: Furry, a 126-pounder, has been one of the top wrestlers in the North Star program over the past four years. He was a state qualifier as a sophomore, won a District 5 title last year and recently recorded his 100th career victory.

“Over the years, he’s been one of the hardest working kids in the room,” Rosa said. “Even with all of this going on – he’s been complaining about having headaches – but he’s continued to work hard every day. It’s a testament to how tough he really is. The doctors were amazed that he was awake, let alone wrestled two matches (Saturday). And, he was pretty competitive. That he wrestled and went and had brain surgery within 12 hours is a testament to how tough he is.”

Melissa Furry said that her son had headaches for years and had a CT scan in 2009, after his brother accidentally hit him in the head with a golf club. A doctor compared a scan from this weekend to the old one and could see how the mass – which the Furrys didn’t know existed – grew over the years.

“If he had to estimate, it was probably there since he was 4 or 5 years old,” Melissa Furry said. “Possibly since birth.”

Wrestling community responds: Doctors don’t think that Saturday’s matches had any negative impact on Furry, but the wrestling community has been quick to respond.

A Facebook post by PA Power Wrestling about his condition reached more than 120,000 people in about 24 hours and was shared more than 1,000 times. Wrestling coaches in District 5 reached out to Rosa asking how they could help, and many have planned T-shirt sales in support of Furry.

“It’s really humbling,” his mother said. “I’m so blown away by it. I’m very thankful. It’s hard to believe. … He just has loved wrestling his whole life. There’s just nothing like that. It’s amazing.”

Chestnut Ridge’s Seth Harbaugh – who Furry wrestled on Saturday – was one of the leaders in the movement.

“I just wanted to show him that we’re there for him, that the wrestling community is strong,” Harbaugh said. “I wanted to show him that we have his back.”

Eric Knopsnyder is the digital editor of He can be reached at (814) 532-5069. Follow him on Twitter @Eric_Knopsnyder and read his blog at