An 8-year-old Minnesota girl is now paralyzed after developing a rare autoimmune disorder that her doctors believe was triggered by COVID-19.
Avella Bauer was a talkative, athletic child who was "extremely healthy," her mom, Lani Bauer, told NBC News, and "never even as much as threw up."
In early March, Avella developed a headache and a mild fever and Lani kept her home from school until her fever broke. Back at school later that week, her teacher called Lani, concerned about how Avella was acting.
"I got a phone call from her after school care saying I had to come get her because she wasn't herself and she was sleeping in one of their little rooms," Lani said.
One morning Lani was unable to get Avella to wake up, and rushed her to the hospital where she had a fever-induced seizure.
"It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying," Lani told KMSP News.
There, Avella was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, a rare condition where the body's immune system attacks itself, leading to swelling in the brain and spinal cord. The disease is triggered by a virus, and the only one Avella tested positive for was COVID-19.
"We certainly have every reason to believe COVID was the triggering virus here," Avella's pediatrician, Dr. Michael Pitt of Masonic Children's Hospital, told the news station. "There's a few reasons I can say that fairly confidently. One — ADEM is triggered by viruses and COVID is a virus. Two, we're seeing case reports all over the world of ADEM where the only virus is COVID."
"It's a heartbreaking story, something rare, likely forever changing a family's life," he added.
Go Fund Me Avella Bauer, before her illness
Avella has been at the hospital since March, and is no longer able to see, speak or move her arms or legs, and has to be fed through a tube. Doctors had to remove the front part of her skull due to brain swelling.
Avella has shown some signs of improvement — her doctors believe she may have regained some vision — but she'll likely have disabilities for the rest of her life. The family already has more than $1 million in medical bills, and is raising money on GoFundMe.
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Lani is urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks to prevent anything like this happening to other kids.
"If getting the shot and wearing your mask is one step closer to preventing this to happen to another child, that's what I want to stress, and I want to stress to make sure you wear your mask," she told NBC News.
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