Since 2014, a rare condition has been on the rise in young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AFM — accute flaccid myelitis — causes muscle weakness and can even lead to death in some cases.
Doctors have compared the condition to polio and it can lead to partial or total paralysis. ABC’s Nightline reported that an outbreak of the condition in 2018 affected over 200 children in the United States.
One little girl from Michigan is among those impacted. Olivia Hanson is 7 years old. At this age, the little girl should be riding a bike and climbing trees but because of AFM Olivia has to focus on learning how to walk again.
In September 2018, the unthinkable happened. “It started like your typical Labor Day, kids were outside playing; water balloon fights, swimming in the pool,” Alecia Hanson, Olivia’s mom, told WXMI. “Saturday, she (Olivia) kind of just said she didn’t feel good. She woke up Sunday with a fever, a pretty high fever, and just said her throat hurt, so I didn’t’ think anything of it.”
But the cold and flu-like symptoms soon escalated. Olivia’s heart rate rose and she went to the hospital. Within two days the young girl went into respiratory failure.
“You just see your child laying there and you can’t hug them, and you think, when is the last time, trying to remember those moments and all the daily stuff you take for granted,” Alecia said.
As rare as AFM is, it is also rare for those with the condition to recover fully. Thankfully, Olivia is one of those few. The journey hasn’t been easy and in many ways it has been like having a new baby again.
“I was back to changing diapers, helping her feed herself. We were doing tummy time just to strengthen her neck again,” Alecia told the news outlet.
It’s been nearly a year since Olivia was taken to the hospital, and she continues to go to therapy and make small strides every day.
“My heart aches for all of the families affected by AFM,” Alecia wrote on Facebook in February 2019. “The lack of knowledge, research, and treatment options is extremely frustrating!”
“We continue to hope and pray someone can find what is causing this ‘mystery illness’ and prevent any more children from getting it,” she added. “We are extremely thankful and feel blessed for the progress Olivia has made and continues to make.”
Alecia told Liftable, a section of The Western Journal, that despite the trials Olivia has faced, she’s a cheerful, charming little girl who has a ton of hope and charisma.
“Olivia is definitely an inspiring girl with a heart of gold!” Alecia said. “She is a ray of sunshine and her smile lights up any room. Her determination to get better is unbelievable. She amazes me daily!”
“She has such a positive attitude and outlook on life all the time. I once complained about the rain while I was driving (it was pouring!!!!). She says ‘Mom, you should just be grateful for the rain.’
That’s the type of girl she is.”
While Alecia says there are still difficult days — as there will always be — they regroup. “My focus has been Olivia’s happiness and for her to know she can still do ANYTHING she wants,” Alecia told Liftable. “It might look different, but where there’s a will there is a way!”
She also wants to encourage parents going through similar trials to keep pushing forward.
“My message to others parents is have hope and be patient,” she advised. “The progress is painfully slow, but at each new milestone we rejoice. Be your child’s #1 advocate. Therapy, therapy and more therapy pays off. Be creative in working therapy into your child’s life. We do a lot of swimming and recently started therapeutic horse back riding lessons.”
“There’s so much play that’s therapeutic as well,” she concluded. “Don’t ever give up!!”
For those families dealing with this “mystery illness” that continues to baffle doctors, there are resources and support groups available. Please visit afmanow.org to learn more.
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