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West Michigan girl defying the odds as she fights AFM

Posted at 8:03 AM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 08:04:38-04

One day last year, "we were just playing and active and healthy. And here she is on a ventilator, you know, fighting for her life."

Alecia Hanson is talking about her 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, who was diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis.  You might remember talk of the polio-like illness hitting kids around the U.S. last year.  It's a rare but serious illness that causes weak muscles and paralysis. As of January 2019 there have been more than 200 confirmed cases.

Olivia was one of those cases, and she has spent the past year in recovery at a place familiar to her family, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Alecia has worked there for 13 years, seeing countless families face the unexpected, never imagining her child would be one needing help.

Alecia said it all started Labor Day weekend in 2018.  "It started like your typical Labor Day, kids were outside playing; water balloon fights, swimming in the pool. 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."

When Olivia's fever wouldn't go down and Alecia noticed her heart rate was high, she decided to take Olivia in. Doctors ran a number of tests, and within 48 hours of being admitted to the hospital, Olivia took a turn for the worse.

"I knew something was really wrong, and within 30 minutes they were calling awareness code on her, and she was in 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 still remembers the first time she got to hold Olivia after several days. "She was still on the ventilator. It took a team of therapy and nursing staff to make it happen, and that too was a hard time. They're telling me she can't move, and I knew that she couldn't move, but just feeling that dead weight of her body was really impactful. And just holding her there, realizing she can't even hold her head up."

Over time Olivia began to gain back some movement, but it was as if she was starting all over.

"I was back to changing diapers, helping her feed herself. We were doing tummy time just to strengthen her neck again. When we were here at Mary Free Bed, she couldn`t sit by herself, so there was a bumbo chair she had to sit on and a lot of those little milestones she's had to re-learn."

Olivia spent nine weeks at Mary Free Bed and continues to do therapy there multiple times a week. "She doesn't see herself as being any different

As for what causes AFM? There is no exact answer.

When it comes to Olivia's long term outlook, that too is unknown. There are not many cases where children make a full recovery, but every day Olivia is gaining more strength and exceeding expectations.

"Maybe she has changed with her physical limitations and can't do things, (but) her spirit, her heart, is back," Alecia said. "I have my little girl."

A little girl whose life was turned upside down in an instant, but is today a true example of resilience and a reminder to be grateful for everyday moments.