Mother advocates for research after polio-like illness claims son’s life


NORFOLK Va. (WAVY) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a record number of acute flaccid myelitis cases — or AFM — in 2018.

The latest numbers show there are 201 confirmed cases of the condition in 2018. More cases may be reported for 2018, because it can take several weeks for the CDC to confirm a suspected case.

According to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, there was one reported case of AFM at their hospital in 2018. 10 On Your Side has learned the child was diagnosed this past fall.

The hospital’s Division Director of Child Neurology, Dr. Michael Strunc, says AFM is extremely rare. 

“If it occurred in one patient, there is not going to be an outbreak in that school or that neighborhood because it’s so rare,” said Strunc. “Like, one in a million.”

AFM starts with a common cold or flu before turning into an attack of the spinal chord and paralysis.

The illness grabbed attention in 2014, when 120 cases were reported nationally. The CDC says it counted 22 cases in 2015, 149 cases in 2016 and 33 cases in 2017. That appears to indicate an every-other-year pattern.

One of those children affected by AFM was from Virginia.

Carter Roberts was diagnosed two years ago. However, in 2018 there were seven reports of AFM diagnoses in the state — and in a truly emotional interview, a Virginia mother opened up to 10 On Your Side after her son was diagnosed with AFM.

“He was just a really happy loving child,” said Carter’s Mother, Robin Roberts. 

Roberts said Carter was found in a ball next to his bed pleading for help in July of 2016. The then 3-year-old could not hold up his head or stand. 

 “Mommy, help me, help me’, and I could barely hear him and I went to pick him up under his arm pits and his head flopped back and to the side,” said Roberts, describing her son calling for help.  

As soon as his family arrived at the emergency room, the the doctor thought he had meningitis or a possible stroke. Carter’s parents say, he was admitted to the PICU and within 12 hours lost his ability to breathe on his own.

Twenty-four hours later, Carter was fully paralyzed from the nose down. After seven days, the family was told Carter — despite being a healthy fully vaccinated child his entire life — had contracted Acute Flaccid Myelitis. 

 “I thought, ‘Okay, we are going to figure this out and we are going to get better.’ That’s what happens, right?”

Carter spent about five months in the hospital before coming home. He spent months on a ventilator, but he made progress, too.

Then came Sept. 22, 2018.

“It was a totally normal day and we were just doing his night-time care,” said Roberts. “His oxygen started to drop and I thought something isn’t right. I called my husband after I called 911 and I said, ‘Something isn’t right’, and he was coaching me through the things that we did as if he was at the other side of the bed and I said, ‘I’ve done that, I’ve done that!”

In that moment, Carter looked into his mother’s eyes. 

“He looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, I’m fine,’ before he closed his eyes. And we sang to him … and told him how much we loved him and he was going to be OK.”

While Carter has such a short story, his mother is writing the next chapter which is titled: finding a cure. She’s advocating for research and funding for the very illness that took her son’s life. 

“I just don’t just believe that Carter would be here if it wasn’t for AFM, I know Carter would still be here if it wasn’t for AFM,” she said.

You can find more information at this link.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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