- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) - The morning of May 3 started innocently enough.

Eight-year-old August McNall walked with his older sister Ainsley to Janesville’s Adams School, the Janesville Gazette (https://bit.ly/2afsrWi ) reported.

By the next morning, a mostly paralyzed August lay in the intensive care unit with doctors scrambling to figure out what was wrong.

His parents, Grant and Stacy McNall, were terrified.

“We had no idea what was happening,” Grant said.

Their child’s rapid decline began about mid-day, when August felt pain in his neck.

An hour later, he could not move his right hand.

Grant picked him up from school and took him to a Janesville emergency room, where he could no longer walk.

Less than an hour later, an ambulance whisked the child to American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, where he spent the next two months.

Eventually, August could only move his shoulders.

The next day, paralysis had moved into his diaphragm.

“He was getting very sick very quickly,” Stacy said.

August ended up in the intensive care unit hooked up to a ventilator for five days.

When it was removed, he told his father: “This is a living nightmare.”

“No 8-year-old should ever have to say anything like that,” Grant said. “He felt like he was going to die.”

August was in the intensive care unit for 12 days.

He underwent a process to separate his plasma from the antibodies that were attacking his spinal cord and causing his paralysis. The process is similar to kidney dialysis.

Doctors did dozens of tests to determine what made August so sick so fast. They ruled out a stroke, tumors and Lyme disease.

Eventually, a neurologist diagnosed the child with pediatric multiple sclerosis, even though the median age for the disease to occur in young people is 14. MS most commonly affects people ages 20 to 40.

“This is such a rare diagnosis,” Stacy said. “There’s not much known about it. The number of doctors who specialize in it is small.”

Neither Grant nor Stacy were familiar with the condition, even though both have backgrounds in medicine.

Grant is a faculty member at St. Anthony’s College of Nursing in Rockford, Illinois, and Stacy is director of the family birthing center at St. Mary’s Hospital, Janesville.

This month, Grant and Stacy took August to see a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The neurologist did not necessarily agree with the earlier diagnosis.

“He is leaning towards an infection or potentially a blood clotting disorder that caused damage to the myelin sheath surrounding the spinal cord,” Grant said.

The doctor has ordered additional tests and a follow-up visit in September.

“This puts Stacy and me kind of back to square one,” Grant said. “We still don’t know exactly what happened, and that is very frightening.”

Meanwhile, Grant and Stacy have watched their son show dogged determination to get back on his feet.

Initially, August had little strength and used a wheelchair with full leg, trunk and head support.

Then physical, occupational and speech therapists worked intensively with the boy to regain some of his previous function.

Today, August can stand and take short steps. His left arm is good, but he still has no function in his right hand.

“He is learning how to do everything all over again with one hand,” Grant said. “The goal is to get him walking again.”

Grant makes daily Facebook posts about August’s progress. Early on, people asked about him and started prayer groups for the child. Today, groups all over the world are praying for August.

“We feel supported,” Stacy said. “You can really feel isolated in the hospital when your child is sick. But there are a lot of people out there who care.”

Grant reached out to people and told them about his son’s struggle. Many responded with cards and visits. Musician and singer Tim McIlrath of the band Rise Against even traveled from his home in Chicago to the hospital, where he played songs for August.

“Humans are inherently good,” Grant said. “I truly believe that.”

The child’s homecoming July 1 was memorable.

A friend of the family explained to business owners along Milton Avenue what had happened to August, and they greeted him with welcome-home wishes on their signs.

In addition, Grant and Stacy invited friends and family members to the house to celebrate.

“We wanted August to know that he was missed,” Stacy said. “The way the community has rallied around him is humbling.”

Among those who were overjoyed to see August was his sister Ainsley, who was scared to come home while her brother was in the hospital.

“Without August, it wasn’t normal,” the 10-year-old said.

In addition to Ainsley, August has two brothers: Alex, 17, and Aidan, 14.

The family feels closer after August’s ordeal.

But they don’t know what is ahead.

“One of our biggest fears is the unknown,” Grant said. “Will this kind of thing happen to August again? Will it be as severe? The unknown is very unsettling.”

___

Information from: The Janesville Gazette, https://www.gazetteextra.com

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