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Nerve transfer surgery a first for paralyzing childhood illness

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Monday, May 13, 2019

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - If you’re a parent, you may already know about the disturbing uptick in an illness that causes paralysis and weakness in young kids. The disease, called acute flaccid myelitis, is rare but it usually pops up in young, healthy children.

There is no cure for the illness, but doctors continue to find new ways to give kids back some of what they’ve lost.  

Brandon Noblitt, 9, is an expert on patience. It’s a skill he had to learn young.

Three years ago, his life took an unexpected turn. 

“I tried to get out of bed and I just collapsed,” Brandon said.

Brandon’s dad, Brian Noblitt, said, “He was perfectly healthy before. Never really had anything, any serious diagnosis or any serious health problems. He was … normal.” 

An MRI revealed he had acute flaccid myelitis: a polio-like illness that causes sudden paralysis. It’s rare but often pops up after an infection like the common cold. 

“I was thinking wow … what if … what if I never get better?" Brandon said.

Brandon had to adjust to life in a wheelchair. Nerve surgeon Dr. Amy Moore from Washington University of St. Louis was determined to get him out of it. 

“The humanism of it … it hurts, because these are normal kids,” Moore said.

In a surgical first for AFM, Moore transfers less important nerves from one part of the body to help the paralyzed leg. 

“We can cut it and remove it and re-suture it under a microscope and at a millimeter a day, inch a month, foot and a half a year, we get muscle function," she said.

It was a long wait, but eventually, Brandon’s patience paid off. His leg muscles started to quiver. 

“It was a sense of celebration," Brian said. "A sense of that ‘wow, this is really starting to happen.'” 

Moore said it can take four years to get the full effect.     

“I’m not making them normal but giving them, waking up muscles to make them stronger so they can stand and so that they can walk,” Moore said.

Brandon doesn’t mind waiting. He’s just glad to be out of his wheelchair. 

“I feel like I’m still getting better. I feel great. I can keep up with my friends and everything,” Brandon told Ivanhoe.

Moore has treated 13 children with 10 more scheduled over the next two months. Three of those children are now out of a wheelchair and walking like Brandon. Others are regaining mobility and the hope is they will continue to improve with time.

Since 2014, there has been an uptick in AFM cases every other year.

Source: news4jax
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