After six months in the hospital and 14 brain surgeries, young Justin Pruitt – nicknamed Junior – is back in his Grand Haven home and is amazing family members and visitors with the progress he’s made.

Soon, Junior will be taken to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital regularly for physical therapy, and an organization and local residents are helping to make mornings now and the upcoming trips to Grand Rapids easier for the Pruitt family.

Junior was born in 2016 and was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, an incurable condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the ventricles, or cavaties, of the brain – and, according to a Facebook page called Juniors Journey, an increased pressure in the boy’s head. 

The Brainy Day Fund, an organization that raises money to help those who have been affected by hydrocephalus, recently donated $2,000 raised from its annual trail run on Aug. 17 in Nunica to help cover the costs of gas and groceries for the Pruitts.

“We’ve always intended for the Brainy Day Trail Run to be the catalyst to do great things for people in our community who are living with the effects of hydrocephalus,” Kevin Curley, fund secretary, says on a page about the Pruitts on the Brainy Day Fund website. “It’s taken us 13 years to get here, but after two very successful races we now have the adequate funds to make a real impact.”

Curley noted fund board members also signed up to join the meal trail, on which people can volunteer to provide food or drinks for the family.

The meal trail (the link to which can be found on the Facebook page) was started by Kirsten West, a friend of the Pruitts who also is helping raise money for the family with T-shirt and hat sales. 

Junior’s story begins in late 2016, when his mother’s ultrasound showed no fluid around his brain, according to the Facebook page. In early 2017, Junior underwent surgery to have a shunt (tiny tube) placed into a ventricle to drain excess fluid. With the shunt in place, Junior carried on as a happy, bubbly child until March of this year, when he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, the page says.

Bacterial meningitis, according to the KidsHealth website, can cause hearing loss, visual impairment, seizures and more in infants.

“It’s super uncommon,” said Aleigha Pruitt, Junior’s mother. “He somehow got it. We were at the hospital for 154 days and he had 14 brain surgeries through that time.”

Aleigha said Junior underwent 24 sedations, including magnetic resonance imagings (MRIs). The shunt was externalized through his abdomen and the internal tube was removed. The internal shunt was later replaced with a newer one in early August.

While in the hospital, Junior experienced a seizure and a stroke, Aleigha said. After the stroke, Junior stopped outwardly expressing emotion.

“He was completely flat. When they would draw blood, he wouldn’t cry. I did everything I could to make him laugh,” Aleigha said, noting Junior began smiling and laughing again a week after his stroke. “Now he has full emotion back, which is kind of unheard of.”

On Day 104, Junior was moved to Mary Free Bed for inpatient rehabilitation, but after a short stay, the youngster was readmitted to the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

“He had a hard time waking up, then wasn’t waking up at all,” Aleigha said, noting tests showed Junior had contracted meningitis a second time.

In early August, Junior went into surgery for a shunt failure.

A friend of Aleigha’s, Kirsten West, said it was a stressful time.

“It didn’t look like there was an end in sight, there were constant surgeries,” West said. “Junior is doing well, he’s trying to sit up. It’s great, you can see that he’s trying. He wants to progress. He wants to bounce back.”

Although there was some concern about Junior being unable to hear, see and more, Aleigha said the youngster is working hard to talk, dance to music and follow the family dog around the house like he did before he was hospitalized in March.

“There are big things we are battling right now, but we are working on it,” she said. “He’s healing. He’s slowly breaking through all the barriers.”

Just a few days before this year’s Brainy Day Trail Run, Aleigha asked Junior’s doctor if she would at least be able to have a day pass to walk the 3-mile trail with her son. Junior was approved to go home and left the hospital Aug. 14.

Three days later, Aleigha walked the trail with Junior in a carrier on her back during the annual trail run.

“It was so nice to be outside doing something with my kid,” she said. “When we crossed the finish line, everyone was standing there cheering. I cried, it was amazing.” 

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