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Boy Born Without Brain Proves Doctors Wrong

July 13, 1989 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Doctors said he would never smile and would be lucky to live more than a few weeks, but a boy born without a brain is now 5 years old and laughs at Disney Channel programs, says his adoptive mother.

″Andrew just glows,″ said Kaye J. Vandal. ″He laughs, he giggles, he smiles. He has an outgoing, bubbly personality that really draws people to him.″

Doctors ″said he would never smile, never respond, never grow,″ Ms. Vandal said. ″All those things have proved to be untrue.″

Andrew, who celebrated his 5th birthday Wednesday, is in excellent health, said Ms. Vandal, a pediatric nurse who lives in Wallingford, Conn.

″He had not even had a cold until this past year when he developed the flu,″ she said in a telephone interview. ″But he got over it in normal fashion and went back to nursery school.″

Soon after Andrew was born in Roanoke, doctors ran tests that showed he had no brain. A cyst had formed at the stem of the brain and kept the rest of it from forming, leaving his skull filled with fluid - a condition known as hydranencephaly.

He survived because the brain stem contains the nerve center that controls breathing and circulation. The parts of the brain that allow humans to think and coordinate muscular movement - the cerebrum and cerebellum - never formed.

Dr. Robert T. Leshner, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the Medical College of Virginia, said there is no known treatment for hydranencephaly and that the prognosis for such patients is poor.

Most children with the condition ″don’t make it past the first year of life,″ he said. The cause of the condition is not known.

Andrew’s biological mother had decided before his birth that she would give up her child for adoption.

Foster parents took care of the boy for five months while the Richmond- based Children’s Home Society of Virginia, a private adoption agency, searched for prospective parents.

″Andrew was the hardest adoption I ever did,″ said Sharon E. Peterson, the society’s director of development. ″We decided we’re not putting this kid in an institution. We’re going to place him.″

Ms. Vandal sought to adopt Andrew after reading a newspaper story about him.

Andrew, who is 3 feet tall, weighs 32 pounds and has golden, curly hair and blue eyes, will start his third year of nursery school in the fall, Ms. Vandal said.

″Other children treat him wonderfully. He participates in all activities other children do, and is very much a part of everything,″ she said.

Ms. Vandal has two girls with conditions similar to Andrew’s. One is 12 years old, the other 3. She said all three will never walk or be able to sit or stand unsupported.

Andrew ″is constantly on the move,″ she said. ″He lies on the floor on his back and kicks around the floor. As soon as we open the sliding glass door, he heads right out the door and onto the porch.″

Andrew cannot speak and is cortically blind, which means images are being seen but not interpreted.

Still, said Ms. Vandal, ″he laughs when he watches the Disney Channel on TV.″

Ms. Vandal, a single parent, lives with her parents. They help care for the children.

″We let him do what he wants to do,″ she said. ″The more he does, the more he gains. I’m not sure how long that will go on, but it hasn’t stopped yet. We’re giving him the best quality of life for however long he lives.″