Teen bounces back from brain injury to give back

There was Andrew running down the hall bouncing a basketball. With legs pumping and arms swinging, the sound of the ball hitting the floor filled the hallway. Andrew was flying. 

Normally, such an activity would get a kid in big trouble. But not this time. 

For his parents, Grant and Nadine, this was one of the most beautiful things they had ever seen, and a sight they will never forget. That moment is so special because when Andrew first arrived at Holland Bloorview, he came in a wheelchair, able only to walk short distances with assistance. 

Andrew suffered a brain bleed in 2015 when he was 10 years old. The medical term is Arteriovenus Malformation or AVM – it’s a fancy way of saying a blood vessel burst in his brain. 

There was no warning that this was coming. Prior to this happening, Andrew was a healthy, active kid.  

Suddenly, Andrew and his parents were in an acute care hospital where he had to undergo emergency surgery. Doctors had no choice but to remove a portion of his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

After some tense days, he was stabilized and the pressure subsided. 

Tough transition

Andrew arrived at Holland Bloorview in March of that year and was an in-patient for two months. “At first it was scary,” said Andrew. He missed school, his friends, “everything about not being at home.” 

Nadine felt the same way. “I wasn’t a very happy parent,” she said. “While it’s a wonderful place, and the absolute best place for Andrew to be where we knew he would be getting the best care, we just wanted him home.”

Andrew’s speech wasn’t affected but his body was. His left side was so weak, leading him to take part in physiotherapy and occupational therapy. He also experienced dystonia. Sometimes his left arm would raise during stretching exercises without him knowing. 

Andrew struggled to come to terms with losing so much strength and function. Initially the gains were slow. 

“He was supposed to walk in a straight line but his left leg wouldn’t go where it was supposed to go, and needed to be guided by the therapist,” said Nadine, recalling his early sessions. 

“It was hard not to get emotional,” she added. “He was struggling to pick up a penny or struggling to lift his knee where he could take a proper step forward.”

But gradually, Andrew got stronger and stronger, and a little more coordinated. Along the way Nadine and Grant were touched by how passionate and involved the hospital’s therapists were. They were just as happy when Andrew made gains and reached goals.

Homeward bound

And when Andrew was strong enough to run and show off his dribbling skills at the same time, everyone knew he was ready to go home. 

Soon after coming home, his parents asked him what he wanted for his 11th birthday and his response surprised them. He wanted his own website. 

“My husband and I said, ‘If you want a website you can have one, but it has to be for a reason,’” said Nadine. And that’s how www.iloveyourbrain.com was born.

His website promotes brain injury awareness and includes his personal story, as well as a blog highlighting fundraising events, a section on brain health and other helpful information. 

His efforts to raise awareness extend well beyond social media. He’s been part of brain health presentations at his school for the past two years, and Andrew and his family are selling bracelets with part of the proceeds going to Holland Bloorview.  

His motivation is simple: “I want to give back and I want other kids who have had brain injuries to know that they’re not alone,” said Andrew.  

Today, the future is looking bright for the 14-year-old. He plans on spending much of the summer with friends on the baseball diamond or on the golf course. 

He starts high school in the fall, and he and his family are both excited and nervous. It’s a big step, but Andrew is ready and definitely in the right frame of mind.