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Brandi — She’s a fighter

By Bo Rogers

Special to the Progres

Driving down Dollarway Road in White Hall on a Saturday morning, you see several garage sales in yards or parking lots. Most of them are people getting rid of a few items to make a little room or make a little money. But one garage sale was for something totally different.

Several people from the Jefferson County Assessors Office met this past weekend to raise money for 19-year-old Brandi Leigh Walker.

Brandi is less than a month from graduating high school, and just had her second brain surgery.

Spokesman for the group, Keena Musgrove, said they had garage sale before and make a lot of money, but it was for just one day. So they decided to have this garage sale for two days. Mrs. Musgrove said she has known Brandi’s parents, Leslie and Barry Walker, for about seven years. She said so many people have wanted to help the Walker family, people were stopping at the garage sale just to donate money without buying anything. She said she understands it gets expensive to drive back and forth to Little Rock and miss work. Ms. Musgrove said there were donation jars at several places in town where people could donate money.

Brandi was born April 1, 1993, at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff. She only weighed on 2lbs, 7* ounces; or about the weight of 3 spiral notebooks. When Brandi was only 5 days old, a nurse accidentally gave her an overdose — 10 times too much — of Gentamicin. Gentamicin is an antibiotic used to treat many types of bacterial infections, but given in high doses, it’s toxic to the sensory cells of ear can cause permanent loss of equilibrioception; or your sense of balance. Because of this, Brandi had a complete blood transfusion at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Because of the accidental overdose, it caused Brandi to have complete hearing loss. At such a young age, Brandi couldn’t even hear her own her mothers voice. But something special happened in Brandi’s life, her hearing slowly began to return.

Her doctors said this was medically impossible because the nerve endings in her ears were not working, but oddly, she could hear. Once this was discovered, she was fitted with hearing aids. At 4 year old, Brandi’s black and white world, suddenly turned color.

Brandi’s mother, Lesley Walker, said after Brandi’s hearing came back, she developed into a normally, healthy kid. Attending Watson Chapel High School, Brandi didn’t want to be just a good student, but a great student. She wants to finish high school in the top 10 percent of her class. Mrs. Walker said Brandi was ranked 22nd out of 208 students, with a grade point average of 3.73. She said Brandi missed her mark by only two students. Outside the classroom, Brandi loved taking gymnastics and being a cheerleader for the Wildcats.

She achieved the honor of being named an All American Cheerleader for 3 years in a row. As her junior year in high school came to a close, Brandi’s life was right on track. She wanted to finish high school, head off to UA/Monticello and study to be a pharmacist, but life was about to throw Brandi a curve ball.

About a year ago, the active eighteen year old started complaining of numbness and tingling in her right hand. Mrs. Walker thought it might be a pinched nerve from all the tumbling in gymnastics. She gave Brandi some aspirin to help with the pain, but the pain kept getting worse. One day, Brandi’s legs gave out on her and she fell to the ground unable to get up. Mrs. Walker realized that this was more than a pinched nerve. She made an appointment for Brandi to see the doctor, but before the appointment Brandi started having more problems. She was having numbness in her mouth and was at times talking with a slur.

Mrs Walker took Brandi to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and after several test, Dr. John Day, a neurosurgeon from UAMS, diagnosed her with Moyamoya Syndrome, that was also complicated by another disease known as “MTHFR” (Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase). Moyamoya Syndrome is a disease which causes blood vessels to weaken and eventually collapse. “MTHFR” causes the blood to thicken much more than it normally should. Mrs. Walker said, “Basically, Brandi has weak veins and thick blood.

The two diseases combined results in seizures and mini-strokes. In Brandi’s case, the left side of her brain, which controls the right side of her body, was not receiving the blood supply it needed because of the restrictions on her blood vessels. If there isn’t enough blood flow, the brain cells cant get the oxygen it needs to survive, and will die. The two diseases combined results in seizures and mini-strokes. The doctors told her parents the odds of a person to have Moyamoya in the United States are approximately 1 in 2,000,000 people.

On July 1, 2011, Brandi had her first brain surgery to help grow new blood vessels on her brain’s left side. After surgery, Brandi stayed in ICU for 15 days. The doctor hoped she didn’t her sick or sneeze because it puts so much pressure on the brain. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, Brandi got sick and started throwing up, which led to her having a seizure and mini-strokes. Brandi started taking anti-seizure medication that have stopped the seizures, but other symptoms returned. She was still having mini-seizure, and has had 6 or 7 full blown strokes. This time the problems were on the other side of her body. The right side of her brain has blood flow restriction and the left side of her body is affected.

Mrs. Walker said Brandi understood she was going to miss her senior prom. Before her second brain surgery in 9 months, Brandi told Dr. Day not to shave her head because her high school graduation was coming up, and the doctor agreed he wouldn’t shave her head.

On April 12, Brandi had her second brain surgery. Mrs. Walker said the doctor did as Brandi asked by not shaving her head, but only a very small place where it was needed. During the last surgery, she lost her short term memory, she would drag a foot when she walked, and she couldn’t feed herself. Ms. Walker said that Brandi is doing a lot better after this surgery than the last surgery. She has been going to physical therapy and can now get up and walk, but she’s still a little unsteady on her feet. She was hopful they could go home later this week. Mrs. Walker said, “Our friends have been working so hard to do everything they can to help. They are amazing! I have lived in Pine Bluff my whole life, and I know there are problems in our city, but this community has shown its beautiful side to us thru both of Brandi’s surgery’s. People are still caring, thoughtful, prayerful and giving! We have truly been blessed!”