Junior Andee Poulos’s battle with a life-threatening injury sparked an organization dedicated to helping families facing the same hardships.
Active. That’s how I would describe my teenage self. Between softball and swimming, I was always busy with practices, games and meets. Unfortunately, everything changed for me one day when I was at swim practice. I couldn’t pinpoint why I didn’t feel exactly right at first, and then the headache and fatigue set in. I knew I needed to get out of the water, so I climbed out of the pool and called my mom to come get me. I walked outside, in wet swimwear, in the cold January air, but I didn’t notice the temperature. I progressively got worse on the way home, and the 20-minute car ride ended up taking over an hour as I kept telling my mom to slow down and stop as the waves hit me. I eventually lost consciousness. I don’t remember anything after that: the ambulance ride, the tests or the diagnosis.
What I have can have no symptoms but lives inside of you until it bursts. The condition is called an arteriovenous malformation, which is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins that ruptured in my brain, over a decade sooner than it typically occurs. I immediately needed brain surgery to remove it, leaving me in a coma for two weeks. The prognosis wasn’t good for me as I wasn’t expected to be able to walk or speak ever again.
There is a two-year lapse in my recovery that I have very few memories of. I was given another challenge as I returned to school two years later and had to become friends with the little siblings of my former classmates. However, I was just glad to be back in school and thankful to have my parents, and especially my little brother, support me through all of this.
My family was forced into a trauma — one that couldn’t have been predicted — emotionally and monetarily. I was lucky to have a community behind me that wanted to help and support my family, despite their initial protests to accept the support. My parents agreed that they wanted to find an outlet that would allow the support our family was given to expand and give back to others who are dealing with the same type of trauma. This is how Andee’s Army was formed. Andee’s Army is an organization started to help families like mine who have had a child experience a brain or spinal cord injury. Andee’s Army has a Patient Assistance Grant Program that is tailored to the unique recovery of each patient and includes occupational, physical and speech therapies, durable equipment, assistive technology, home health aid, basic home modifications as well as other specialized therapy and care.
My hope is that Andee’s Army will continue to make a difference in the lives of those who need it. A trauma like this brings more expenses and challenges to a family than just the up-front medical costs. Ultimately, Andee’s Army allowed me to get the therapy I needed to be who I am today, and I wish that for everyone else placed in my position.
For more information about Andee’s Army and how to get involved, go to andeesarmy.org.