New Castle News

Closer Look

November 22, 2012

Photo Gallery, Video, Story: Youth who suffered brain injury at birth takes first steps at age 16

NEW CASTLE — It was about 10 years ago that Danna Fleeson was encouraged to accept that her son never would walk.

“I was told by doctors that no matter what we tried, Andy would not walk and that we might as well do surgery to paralyze him from the waist down,” Danna said. “I cried for days. I was just not willing to give up on my son ever taking a step.”

Instead of agreeing to the surgery, Danna became even more determined to see him walk.

Last December, at the age of 16, Andy Fleeson took his first step. Then another. And another.

“I’m just so glad that I followed my instincts,” Danna said. “It was the proudest day of my life.”


Shortly after Andy was born April 10, 1996, at Ellwood City Hospital to Danna and Michael Fleeson by Caesarian section, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Danna, who already had two older sons with whom she had had relatively easy births, said that in the early months of her pregnancy with Andy, she suffered from extreme nausea and had to be hospitalized twice for dehydration that resulted from it. Labor pains started during her seventh month of pregnancy, but medication was administered to stop the contractions.

While Danna was in labor for about 3 1/2 hours for each of her first two sons, she was in labor for 14 hours with Andy, whose birth weight was 11 pounds, 11 ounces. His high birth weight was attributed to fluid buildup in his brain, which caused his brain to become pinned up against his skull, expanding it to 49 centimeters, or the size of a 3-year-old’s head.

Immediately after birth, Andy was transported to West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. The next day, a shunt was inserted into the open hollows in his brain to drain the excess cerebral-spinal fluid into his abdomen during an 11-hour surgery. Danna was told that Andy’s hydrocephalus was “extremely severe — profound,” and may have built up undetected during her pregnancy.

Andy would need a lot of care — and love.

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