After six years of trying to get pregnant and one miscarriage, Kellie and Andrew Burkhart welcomed little Andrew to the world in 2006.
Almost immediately the Gilbert parents knew something was wrong with their son.
Andrew developed torticollis, a condition causing his neck to tilt to one side, he couldn’t control the left side of his body and had severe gastrointestinal issues.
He began physical therapy at 4 months old.
After years of dead ends in the family’s search for a definitive diagnosis to pinpoint the proper treatment — “general development delay” is what they often heard from doctors — Andrew was diagnosed with cerebral palsy just before his fourth birthday.
A brain and nervous system disorder, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children. About 1 in 323 children has cerebral palsy, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
“A lot of people would say at least he was getting services (before the diagnosis),” Kellie said, “but we were determined to get him the right services.”
Andrew didn’t talk until he was 3 and his tongue still doesn’t work perfectly. He was 4, weighed 50 pounds and still was in diapers.
Then the Burkharts were introduced to a homeopathic doctor, who referred them to a stem-cell specialist in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Andrew underwent his first stem-cell procedure in the summer of 2011 in Mexico.
“It was like God’s hand touched him,” Kellie said. “His GI system fixed itself and he was potty trained in a month.”
Additional stem-cell treatments and dozens of sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber gave Andrew the use of his left arm.
Andrew is now 7 and in the first grade at Settler’s Point Elementary School. It is the first year he has been in school full time.
“He is really high-functioning now,” Kellie said. “We’re very blessed that the disorder hasn’t affected his mental functions. He knows he can’t do a lot of the physical things other kids can, but he also knows he is one of the best readers in his class.”
Andrew’s treatments are working, the family says, but the Burkhart’s health insurance doesn’t cover them — Kellie hasn’t found an insurance company that does — as they are deemed “experimental” or “alternative.”
So the Burkharts must cover Andrew’s nearly $29,000 in annual medical bills — between $15,000 and $20,000 for the stem-cell procedures each summer and roughly $750 a month for natural remedies and weekly physical therapy sessions.
“We can’t do that on a teacher’s salary,” said Kellie, who after years as a mental health therapist stays at home to work with Andrew.
The elder Andrew Burkhart is a math teacher at Hamilton High School. He also teaches after-school classes at Bogle Junior High and on Saturdays at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. All to help fund his son’s medical care.
“We’ll take fundraising for the right treatment than what we were doing before,” Kellie said.
The family received help from tax-deductible donations accepted through nonprofit Fans Across America Charitable Foundation for a couple years. But the fundraising arm of that organization is no more.
Kellie sells glass jewelry through an Etsy.com site (the jewelry is created by a former student’s mom).
The Hamilton Key Club is now lending a hand by organizing a five-on-five basketball tournament Jan. 18 at Hamilton. The tournament is for adults and children.
“I’m a member of Hamilton’s National Honor Society club as well and it’s hosted benefit events for the Burkharts in the past so I thought (the basketball tournament) would be a good idea and a way to truly help out someone in the local community in a very direct way,” said Lindsey Chew, a Hamilton senior and the Key Club president.
Registration for the event closes Jan. 8 and costs $25 per team or $5 per person for teams of more than five players. Registration forms are at tinyurl.com/hoopsforandrew.
More information on Andrew, as well as other donation methods, is available at prayforandrew.wordpress.com.
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