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Who Andrew Runs For: The Hospital That Saved His Life

Andrew Leitner celebrates finishing his first full marathon.

UPDATE: After successfully running 26.2 miles and raising $1600, Andrew is recovering from the marathon...but already looking forward to the next opportunity to help Gillette kids!

Andrew has been volunteering at Gillette Children's since February 2017.

Andrew has been volunteering at Gillette Children's since February 2017.

On October 1st, you’ll recognize Andrew Leitner by his “Gillette 1” race bib at the Twin Cities Marathon. It’s only fitting that his bib is emblazoned with his reason for running.

“When I learned I could raise money for Gillette Children's by doing the marathon, it was an easy decision,” Andrew says. He created his personal fundraising page through the Gillette website and started sharing it on his social media accounts, keeping his friends and followers up to date with his progress.

It’s his first marathon, but he’s been training for months in preparation.

"When I was running 16 miles, that took about two-and-a-half hours, so the marathon will probably take four hours and 10 to 20 minutes,” Andrew predicts. He knows it’ll be hard despite his training. “I’ll be able to do it, sure, but it’ll get a little boring near the end.”

So what spurs a first time marathon runner to sign up for such a daunting task?

“It’s not much to spend a day giving back to Gillette, when Gillette gave so much to me,” Andrew says. His connection to the hospital is twofold; he’s both a volunteer and a former patient.  

Andrew recovering at Gillette from a traumatic brain injury. 

Andrew recovering at Gillette from a traumatic brain injury. 

Line Drive Up the Middle

Between his sophomore and junior years of high school, Andrew was pitching during baseball practice when a liner up the middle drilled directly into his skull, giving him a traumatic brain injury (TBI). His skull cracked, but doctors were cautiously optimistic after his initial concussion test. Andrew was sent home under constant watch by his mom and brother, just in case he took a bad turn.

While he was home, he lost consciousness. Andrew’s family called the paramedics and they rushed him to Gillette, where doctors found that his brain wasn’t bleeding, but the area around the brain was filling with blood and constricting his brain. To relieve the pressure, Andrew underwent emergency brain surgery during which his neurosurgeon drilled a hole in his skull to drain the blood. He spent three days in the hospital recovering from surgery and then was sent home to heal fully.  

After completing a stint of outpatient rehabilitation to improve some fine motor skills, he went back to playing baseball. He then graduated high school, went to college and worked around the U.S. before moving back to the Twin Cities in 2015. Once acclimated to being home, Andrew wanted to get back in touch with Gillette.

“There are so many people and nurses—I couldn’t tell you their names because I was in and out of consciousness—that helped out when I got injured,” Andrew says. “My mom remembers every single one of them.” Volunteering was his way to give back to Gillette.

James gets ready to high-five Andrew during a volunteering event.

James gets ready to high-five Andrew during a volunteering event.

“The way I look at it, volunteering serves multiple purposes," says Andrew. "First, it gets the kids out of their rooms. Cart, wheelchair, other equipment…they all have a chance to get out and move around instead of being bored in their room. It also gives the parents a little reprieve. They have an hour to go to dinner or take a walk or just have a moment to themselves. Once they realize they’re still in the hospital and a nurse or doctor is just a page away, they feel a lot better about leaving their kids and focusing on themselves.”

The one downside to volunteering is also a good thing. The kids Andrew sees when volunteering are different almost every week, so there’s no time to really get to know them.

“You’ll paint wooden wagons with a kid one week, do Easter art the next week, and then the kid will get better and leave,” says Andrew. “But there are some that stick in your memory.”

From there, the idea of running the Twin Cities Marathon to support Gillette came easily. When Andrew sustained his traumatic brain injury, his mom worked for the State of Minnesota and thus had good health insurance.

“Just talking to some of the families I work with as a volunteer…they don’t have anywhere near that level of medical coverage, so running to raise money for Gillette families and giving back some of my time is definitely worth it to me. Everyone deserves an opportunity to get the care they provide at Gillette,” Andrew explains. 

As the marathon draws near, donate to Andrew’s fundraising page to show your support and join us in cheering for Andrew at the Twin Cities Marathon on October 1st!