Henry Cheng, a graduating senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, practices walking across the stage at JDHS with the help of his father, Vincent, second from left, para educator Valerie Cables, right, and physical therapist Che Plang, of Southeast Alaska Therapies, on Thursday, May 24, 2018, in preperation of Sunday’s graduation ceremony. Henry suffered a severe traumatic brain injury after falling off a cliff in 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Henry Cheng, a graduating senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, practices walking across the stage at JDHS with the help of his father, Vincent, second from left, para educator Valerie Cables, right, and physical therapist Che Plang, of Southeast Alaska Therapies, on Thursday, May 24, 2018, in preperation of Sunday’s graduation ceremony. Henry suffered a severe traumatic brain injury after falling off a cliff in 2016. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

This JDHS senior overcame all odds to walk at high school graduation today

A Juneau high schooler who sustained a traumatic brain injury two years ago will be walking across the stage at the Juneau-Douglas High School graduation today.

It’s a moment Henry Cheng and his family weren’t sure would happen.

“The expectation would be he wouldn’t have functional movement because of the injury and be bedridden,” his mother, Kris Cheng, said.

Henry sustained the brain injury after falling down a large cliffside out the road in April 2016. He was medevaced to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center and was unconscious for more than two weeks.

His medical recovery has been an arduous journey. After receiving care in Seattle for more than three months, he returned to Juneau and lived in Wildflower Court, an in-patient medical care facility. He remained in the assisted living home for four months before moving back into his family’s home on Fritz Cove.

Henry re-enrolled at Juneau-Douglas High School while at Wildflower. Paraeducator Mike Garcia, one of his soccer coaches at JDHS and longtime athletic trainer, has been working hand-in-hand with him since that time as an aide, teaching Henry motor skills.

Kris Cheng said she knew of Garcia from her time as a paraeducator at Auke Bay Elementary. She said it was important for her that her son was paired with someone who knew him before that accident. In his first two years of high school, Cheng took advanced placement classes and was at the top of his class. He was a stand out on the soccer field, and well-known in Juneau’s music community. Henry has played violin since age 7.

“When you’re in a position like Henry, I think some people might take the approach like, ‘Oh, it would be easier if I do it,’ rather than push him,” Kris Cheng said. “Especially given that Henry was having a hard time communicating, somebody might approach him with kid gloves and just want to make life easier on him. Well, Mike knew his work ethic and knew better than anybody how he could push Henry and at the same time be cognizant of Henry’s limitations.”

Cheng has applied a stong work ethic in his intensive speech, physical and occupational therapy schedule, Garcia said.

“Bottom line is I don’t know who would’ve been as devoted to his own recovery as Henry,” Garcia said.

This year, Henry enrolled in two senior-level classes. Friend and former teammate Ben Campbell, who shared an Algebra II/Trig class with Cheng last year, has been in awe of his friend’s progress.

“We’ll tell a joke or something and he’ll laugh,” Campbell said. “He’s definitely there, he’s involved in the conversation.”

Throughout his junior year at JDHS, Henry used a wheelchair to get around. He started using a walker in the summer of his senior year. He will not be using a walker to walk across the JDHS stage on Sunday, though. Henry practiced walking across the stage earlier this week, with his dad, Vince, and two other physical therapists watching him from a close distance.

“I see it as a culmination of all of his hard work,” Kris Cheng said. “He has never wavered in his desire to walk and regain every bit of what he had back and so this is another big step in that direction.”

Cheng will have just a half credit of history to finish up in the fall to officially graduate. He will then attend Coastline Community College in Newport Beach, California which offers a specialized program for individuals with acquired brain injuries to regain their cognitive independence.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.


More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor during the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Emergency order bans king salmon fishing in many Juneau waters between June 24 and Aug. 31

Alaska Department of Fish and Game says low projected spawning population necessitates restrictions

Most Read