Vickroy: Oak Forest teen, science academy pioneer, survives stroke
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy August 6, 2014 4:26PM
Andy Beahan of Oak Forest, IL., was selected for Princeton International School of Math and Science (PRISMS) for their inaugural year 2013-2014. Beahan suffered a stroke in March but has made a remarkable recovery wanting now to spread the word about pediatric strokes. | John Smierciak/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 8, 2014 6:30AM
When last we saw Andy Beahan, just before Labor Day 2013, he was packing up to head east.
The Oak Forest teen was among a handful of American and Chinese students chosen last year to participate in the inaugural class of Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS) in Princeton, New Jersey. The coeducational, non-denominational private boarding school provides a rigorous inquiry-driven education for highly talented students who have a passion for math and science.
And what a year it was. Not only did Andy, 16, live away from home, he produced work on alternative energy that is now patent-pending.
“It was way different than I’d ever experienced,” Andy said. “I was in class 4/5ths of the time and did independent research the other fifth.”
To be sure, it was a year of scientific discovery for the former Oak Forest High School student who wants to work in engineering and research one day.
But the learning didn’t stop in the classroom. In March, just days before he was to travel to China with his classmates, Andy suffered a stroke.
Though his recovery has been remarkable, he now knows the ins and outs of a hereditary blood deficiency condition known as Factor V Leiden, a mutation of one of the clotting factors in the blood that, according to the Mayo Clinic website, can increase the chances of developing abnormal blood clots, usually in the veins.
He didn’t recognize them as symptoms at the time but Andy began experiencing headaches last October, just a month after arriving on the PRISMS campus. He didn’t tell anyone, he said, because he attributed them to tension.
“I was in a new place, working really hard,” he said. It was his first time taking chemistry. He was really working his brain.
When the pain became serious in March, severe enough for him to miss class, he considered going to a chiropractor. He’d previously seen a chiropractor at home about headaches.
“I thought I might need an adjustment,” Andy said. “But then I started feeling left side numbness.” When he had difficulty controlling his left side, the school nurse immediately took him to Princeton Hospital where a quick CT-Scan and MRI showed something was wrong, he said
Hospital staff then ambulanced him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he stayed for a week.
While hospitalized, Andy suffered a series of seizures, his mom, Paula Beahan, said.
His condition, which the family later learned was inherited from Paula, caused a blood clot in his brain which in turn caused a stroke.
Factor V, Paula said, causes the blood to over-clot.
“He has the heterozygous form, which means he gets it from one parent,” Paula said. “That parent is me.
“Knock on wood, I’ve had no complications, never knew I had it,” she said.
But now that they know, she added, both she and Andy will be doubly conscious to abide by rules regarding stroke risk factors, such as avoiding smoking, monitoring blood pressure and watching diet.
“Any risk factors that a normal person would have are even more important risk factors when you have Factor V,” she said. “Now we know to act fast if he gets a headache or shows other symptoms.”
According to the American Stroke Association, nearly 11 in 100,000 children will suffer a stroke each year. It is one of the top 10 causes of death for children.
On the U.S. government’s National Human Genome Research Institute website, it states that those with the Factor V Leiden mutation are at somewhat higher than average risk for a type of clot that forms in large veins in the legs or a clot that travels through the bloodstream and lodges in the lungs.
It also says that Factor V is the “most common inherited form of thrombophilia,” affecting between 3 and 8 percent of the Caucasian populations in the United States and Europe. The gene mutation is less common in other populations, it states.
Paula and Mike Beahan, Andy’s dad, flew to New Jersey as soon as they learned of their son’s condition. Paula stayed there, living in the women’s dorm, throughout his recovery.
For the upcoming school year, she has taken leave of absence from her teaching job at Mae Jemison School in Hazel Crest to take a position teaching English and working as a dorm parent with PRISMS, which will enable her to keep an eye on Andy as well as the other teens participating in the program.
Andy was fortunate to regain most of his control during his weeklong hospital stay. After his release he received three months of occupational therapy to regain all of the strength and control on his left side. Andy stayed at the home of the PRISMS headmaster, Dr. Glenn “Max” McGee, during his convalescence.
“I tried to stay positive the whole time,” Andy said. “It made it easier to recover and it made it easier on everyone else.”
“His recovery has been incredible,” Paula said. “He even received the school’s top award — the headmaster award — at the end of the year.”
Paula added it’s likely Andy will have to take the blood thinner Cumadin for the rest of his life, which requires some dietary restrictions.
But, the important thing is, she added, “He made it through. Not everyone does.”
She cited the recent passing of American Idol finalist Michael Johns, who died Aug. 1 of a suspected blood clot in his ankle.
While he was recovering, Andy did a lot of research on strokes. The longtime Boy Scout plans to put together a presentation on stroke awareness for his upcoming Eagle Scout project.
Despite all he went through, Andy is proud that he didn’t miss a day of school due to the stroke. It occurred while he was on PRISMS’s two-week spring break.
But he did miss the trip to China.
Though his mom is happy the stroke didn’t come while he was overseas, “or on the flight,” she said, she knows her son felt badly about the missed opportunity to visit the homeland of many of his new schoolmates.
But recently, Andy learned that his social worker at the hospital contacted the Make-A-Wish foundation about his condition and the missed trip.
“They came to me a few weeks ago and told me I’ll be going to Rome next summer,” Andy said.
For more information on stroke, pediatric stroke or Factor V Leiden, visit http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/ or