“It’s as if she went to sleep when she was 14 and woke up at 16,” said Lyn Poulos, mother of Andee Poulos, who was rushed into emergency surgery after complaining of a headache at swim practice in 2011.
It was discovered that Andee, who was in eighth-grade at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs at the time, was born with an arteriovenous malformation, or abnormal opening between a cluster of arteries and veins. Andee had internal bleeding from the malformation, which lies dormant in most people.
“It was a tangle in my brain,” said Andee, who has little recollection of the almost two years she was unable to speak, walk or talk.
Andee was in the hospital for 39 days after the surgery to remove the clot and malformation in her brain and then in rehab at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and Healthbridge Children’s Hospital in Houston for most of the rest of 2011.
She finally began to breathe on her own in April 2011 and went home that December.
“She was not very responsive, she couldn’t walk or talk and she got very agitated,” said Andee’s father John.
Last April, the Poulos family traveled to Boston, where Andee started a rehab program with Drs. Jeremy Schmahmann and Ronald Hirschberg, who performed experimental brain stimulation treatments on her.
The doctors told the family the treatments’ effects would be visible immediately, but Andee showed no real signs of improvement until June, when she first ate solid food — barbecue chicken, according to John.
In July, she spoke her first word since 2011, “George,” her 9-year-old brother’s name.
Andee is now walking, talking, regaining sight and memory and improving.
“The doctors are fairly amazed at her recovery, as slow as it was for a year and a half,” said John.
When Andee was first diagnosed, friends of the family put together a nonprofit, called Andee’s Army, dedicated to helping the Poulos family and other families affected by non-traumatic brain injuries with their expenses.
Last year’s Andee’s Army 5K Fun Run/Walk in March had about 800 runners participate, collecting about $60,000 for the families, according to event chair John Cohen.
Five families were granted a share of $50,000 raised from the run.
The family was touched by the support the community gave the group last year.
“It hit home, I think. People were able to give to something they could touch,” said John Poulos.
This year, the group is hoping to raise at least $50,000 again and have 1,000 runners participate.
Andee will start the race, speak to the runners and give out the awards at the end.
If you go:
o What: Andee’s Army 5K Fun Run/Walk
o When: Feb. 23 at 9 a.m.
o Where: Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, 805 Mount Vernon Hwy., Sandy Springs
o Registration: $15 for children/students and $25 for adults. Runners can register online at www.andeesarmy.com. Late registration will begin on race day at 7:20 a.m.
Here is a link to a YouTube video of the Andee's Army 5K Fun Run/Walk: