Dugout Doings: Andee Poulos at 17
For four springs we have chronicled Andee Poulos' recovery from an injury caused when a blood vessel ruptured in her brain in January 2011. 'I couldn't walk or speak or smile or do anything for almost two years,' Andee told a ballroom of 750 adults in February. But now she's 'back in school, making straight A's and looking forward to a life of smiles and happiness.'
The saga of Andee Poulos, once an NYO fastpitch softball star and now a poised 17-year-old, continues. Hundreds of good people known as 'Andee's Army' celebrate her remarkable recovery with a 5K run and walk that, entering its third year, has benefited more than 35 families in need of emergency financial help. This year's event is 8:30 a.m. Saturday, March 22, at Riverwood High School, where Andee is a ninth-grader. The race will be over in time to attend NYO's annual Opening Day parade. Another NYO'er, Will Penn, who suffered a like brain injury in 2011, will join Andee as honorary co-director. Will's recovery and return to NYO baseball are equally gratifying. Like Andee, Will is a battler.
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If you ask Andee where her resolve comes from, she remembers a little girl who tried softball, 'wasn't very good, but kept getting better. I never gave up.' That same determination comes through as Andee recalls the three-hour occupational and physical therapy sessions. 'It was more 'you got to do it therapy,'' she says, chopping one hand into another for emphasis.
The little girl became a windmilling dynamo of a pitcher who awakened something in her mother, Lyn. 'I was never really excited about any sports,' Lyn Poulos recalls, 'until Andee played.'Mother and daughter credit NYO fastpitch softball commissioner Brian Raley with drawing them into the game. 'Brian pulled us in,' Lyn recalls.
But a burst blood vessel changed everything on a January day in 2011. The fight to save Andee's life had begun. Doctors and therapists in Houston, Boston and Atlanta played vital roles, but no one played a bigger role than John and Lyn Poulos and Andee's younger brother, George. It was as if they willed her recovery with love and superhuman effort.
In February, Lyn, John and George accompanied Andee to the lectern as she addressed all those grown-ups gathered for the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta annual Hope and Will Ball. The hospital named Andee its 'Honorary Patient Hero.' Although she spoke for less than two minutes, Andee wowed the crowd. She told her story, thanked everyone, then showed a whimsical side with an invitation to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta: 'Dr. Gupta, let's do lunch. Have your people call my people.'
As she approaches her 18th birthday this summer, Andee remembers and cherishes her NYO family. Her lunchtime buddies at Riverwood, a school with 1,700 students, include several girls who played fastpitch softball. 'My friends through NYO never gave up on me.They are still my friends.' Last year, Andee threw out the first pitch at NYO's Opening Day celebration. In June, more than 40 teams participated in the program's first-ever fastpitch tourney with proceeds going to Andee's Army.
For one so young who has been through so much, Andee abounds in wisdom. Asked for advice for parents, coaches and players at NYO, here is what she said:
Parents: 'Don't get upset when your kids don't (perform on the field) the way you want them to.'
Coaches: 'Kids might not always listen to you --- or seem like it --- but they are listening.'
Players: 'Never give up. I wanted to be a pitcher. I never gave up.'
Andee's plans include college and a career as an interior designer. Math, she says, comes easily to her and interior designers need to have a good sense of proportion.
Andee returned to softball last summer, playing for the Shepherd (Center) Sluggers as a catcher and an outfielder. According to Lyn Poulos, the game is challenging because players must use wheelchairs. But never consider Andee Poulos an easy out.
She has already proved that.
Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, has two daughters, so he knows the joy and pride John and Lyn have in Andee.