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Defying the Odds

October 14, 2009

autoimmune disease

Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, doctors said little Alex Wilcox might never advance beyond a six-month-old level due to his autoimmune disease… Just look at him now!

When Leah Wilcox picked up her fair-haired, 11-month-old son, Alex, at day care, she knew something was terribly wrong.

“Suddenly, he couldn’t move his arms, his hands were like flippers,” she says, recalling that day in May 2007. “Typically he would read books on the way home from day care, but when I handed him one of his favorite books, he couldn’t turn the pages. I was freaking out.”

Panic-stricken, Leah and her husband Blake rushed Alex to the emergency room. “Alex was very listless,” she says. “The expression on his face was confusion and fear.”

When tests failed to show anything abnormal, Alex was airlifted down to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. Still, a diagnosis was hard to come by. Several days of heart-rending uncertainty passed before Leah and Blake learned their son had an autoimmune disease called transverse myelitis. Alex’s body was turning on itself, attacking the protective coating on the spinal cord that covers nerve cell fibers.

After nearly a week in the pediatric intensive care unit, Alex was transferred to a pediatric inpatient rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia where he had his first birthday. At the time, no such facility existed in the Lehigh Valley (Today, the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit would be an ideal location for Alex to receive acute rehabilitation care). Leah stayed with Alex during the entire month he was hospitalized while Blake made the 140-mile round-trip commute from their home in Northampton every other night after work to visit.

“It was one of the most lonely and isolating experiences of my whole life,” Leah says. “I just felt so isolated from my family and the rest of the world.”

Leah and Blake were told that Alex might never advance beyond a six-month level. Determined to give their little boy the best possible chance, when Alex came home in June 2008, his parents started him right away in Good Shepherd’s outpatient pediatric program where he still comes four days a week for physical and occupational therapy.

“He had to start from zero again,” Leah says. “In the beginning, he couldn’t even lift his head. Now he can ride a scooter standing up, he can ride a bicycle, he can walk backwards, he can dance like you wouldn’t believe. And he loves to play with his electronic drum set. He’s going to be a fantastic drummer some day.”

Leah and Blake are deeply grateful for the family of therapists in Good Shepherd’s pediatric program who have brought Alex so far. A happy and active three-year-old, Alex attends an early intervention program at elementary school which he just loves. “Everything he’s gained back, he’s gotten at Good Shepherd,” Leah says. “We’re just seeing leaps and bounds. He’s still having milestones. I could cry. This was a child whose doctors once said would never walk or advance beyond the six-month level. He’s a champ and a half!”

For more information on Good Shepherd’s programs and services, call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422).