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FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Zacharie, Leeann and Melissa McNutt in Priceville. Leeann's brain is the size of a 2-year-old's, and she has the mentality of an eight- to 10-month-old.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Zacharie, Leeann and Melissa McNutt in Priceville. Leeann's brain is the size of a 2-year-old's, and she has the mentality of an eight- to 10-month-old.

Mom hopes chamber will help child's brain

PRICEVILLE — Barefoot, wearing a light blue sundress and a diaper, Leeann McNutt sat strapped in a stroller on the deck of her grandparents’ mobile home, here on New Center Road.

Occasionally, she flashed a broad smile, her tan face accentuating teeth as white as ocean foam. Her sky-blue eyes moved lazily in the direction of noise but sparkled at the sound of her father’s voice.

She nodded off momentarily, awakening to continue the constant chewing on her bib.

“She does it because it’s something she can do,” said Floyd McNutt.

She isn’t a typical 6-year-old. Her mother, Melissa McNutt, said Leeann has a brain the size of a 2-year-old’s and the development of an eight- to 10-month old. She is unable to speak but cries out.

Technically, she has herpes encephalitis with secondary microcephaly. Her mother said it is similar to cerebral palsy.

“She’s legally blind,” Melissa McNutt said. “She has cortical visual impairment, also caused by the herpes. Doctors tell us that sight for her is like looking through a piece of Swiss cheese. She sees bits and pieces.”

Wednesday, McNutt took her daughter to Dr. Jewel Euto at Tri-County Counseling and Natural Health Clinic in Decatur to discuss hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, a treatment in which patients are given pure oxygen under pressure, designed to repair brain injuries.

McNutt said that beginning June 25, Leeann will have 90 treatments.

“Each session lasts an hour, and she’ll go Monday through Friday for 30 sessions, take a couple of days off, and start again,” McNutt said.

The total cost is $4,500, and the family needs help. Their insurance doesn’t cover the therapy. Sabrina Euto, who handles billing for the clinic, said Thursday that Medicaid won’t cover the treatments.

“We haven’t come across any insurance companies who will,” Euto said.

McNutt said after she delivered Leeann, tests confirmed that she is a carrier of both oral and genital herpes, however, she isn’t certain she caused Leeann’s medical problems.

“Doctors said that when I gave birth to her, the only way the disease could have been transmitted was for me to have had a herpes lesion, and I didn’t,” she said.

According to information on herpes from the American Social Health Association in Research Triangle Park, N.C., if no virus is in the birth canal and there are no symptoms or signs of an outbreak, a vaginal delivery is considered safe.

The agency states that “babies also can get herpes if they are kissed by someone with a cold sore. A young baby cannot fight off infections as easily as an adult can, so serious problems might result.”

McNutt said if doctors were certain she had herpes, they would have delivered the child by Cesarean section, as they did later with “Lil” Floyd, the McNutt’s 3-year-old. He is healthy.

But she also is the mother of Leeann’s brother, Zacharie Menley, 11, who’ll be in sixth-grade this fall at Priceville High School. At the time of his birth, she said she had no symptoms.

Floyd McNutt has worked more than six years on second shift at Wayne Farms, and his wife has worked more than a year at Service Master Cleaning and Restoration. Floyd McNutt said doctors first told the couple that it would be a miracle if Leeann lived six months.

“They kept edging her life expectancy up each three months. They said if she made it to nine months, she would never move. She rolls everywhere,” he said. She can rock herself to a sitting position. She first did it at home, and it was such a notable event, her mother recalls the date.

“It was May 1, 2006, just after her fifth birthday,” Melissa McNutt said.

Floyd McNutt gingerly lifted his child out of the stroller and stood her between his knees, steadying her by holding onto her waist.

“And doctors said she’d never do this,” he said, as Leeann stood firm. “She can’t stand or walk on her own, but they said she’d never even stand.”

How to give

People who wish to donate to the Leeann McNutt Fund may do so by sending a check to Regions Bank, P.O. Box 2229, Decatur, AL 35602; to 610 Main St. West, Hartselle, AL 35640; or visit any branch bank office.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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