NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The numbers keep climbing for a mysterious disease causing sudden weakness and paralysis.
At least 72 cases of “AFM” have been reported. But as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday, there is an unusual surgery that can help restore mobility to some victims.
AFM stands for acute flaccid myelitis. It affects a person’s spinal cord, causing weakness in one or more limbs that can progress to paralysis.
While it resembles polio, it’s exact cause is actually unknown, although some sort of virus is suspected.
While many victims recover, some have permanent paralysis. That’s where an innovative surgery helped a young Missouri boy.
Brian Noblitt said it only took one week back in 2016 for his son Brandon’s health to deteriorate.
“Tuesday into Wednesday cold-like symptoms. As the week progressed, (he) had a headache and neck pain,” Brian said.
Days later, Brandon couldn’t use his legs to get out of bed.
“I knew then something was very wrong,” his father said.
A doctor then diagnosed Brandon with acute flaccid myelitis. Brandon needed a wheelchair to get around, a difficult situation for a then-6-year-old.
“While all your friends are running around and playing, it’s hard to just sit in the bed and do nothing,” Brandon said.
The family eventually turned to Dr. Amy Moore of Washington University in St. Louis.
“My goal with the children with AFM was to restore hip stability and then motion of the upper legs,” Dr. Moore said.
Fourteen months ago, Moore performed the nerve transfer surgery on Brandon’s leg at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. During Friday’s check-up, Brandon said now he only uses his wheelchair to play basketball.
“It has been amazing. I can go outside, play with my brothers,” Brandon said.
While the Centers for Disease Control tries to pinpoint the cause, Moore is working to help those affected.
“My intention is to give these families hope that there are options if they get this horrible diagnosis,” she said.
Brandon said that horrible diagnosis brought him new basketball friends and inspired him to one day pursue a career in medicine.
According to Dr. Moore, children typically respond best to this type of nerve transfer surgery because their nerves grow back faster and its most successful within nine months of diagnosis.
This is not a cure for AFM or the paralysis it can cause. It’s a kind of biologic “work-around” that uses the nerves that are still working to compensate for the ones that aren’t.