St. Louis doctor successful in treating children with polio-like illness

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A St. Louis surgeon has successfully treated children suffering from a rare, polio-like illness.

Washington University Dr. Amy Moore has made a breakthrough in restoring function to the legs of children paralyzed by acute flaccid myelitis (AFM). Families from around the country are coming to St. Louis Children’s Hospital for specialized surgery for their children.

One of those children came back to the hospital Friday for a follow-up visit.

In 2016, six-year-old Brandon Noblitt of Greenville, South Carolina was a healthy little baseball player but that changed over the course of one week.

“We played baseball one Saturday. The next Saturday we’re hooked up in the hospital,” said Brian Noblitt, Brandon’s father.

The symptoms started as a cold with a headache and fever. It escalated to neck pain.

“It progressed quickly across the week, and Saturday he woke up and couldn’t move,” Brian said.

Brandon was diagnosed with AFM. His right arm and leg were paralyzed. The family looked for answers at hospitals around the country, like Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, where doctors performed a nerve transfer to get movement in Brandon’s right arm. Physicians told the family about Dr. Moore, who had completed the first nerve transfer in the legs of children with AFM.

“Since 1996, we’ve been doing nerve transfers to restore function here, but we haven’t applied them to the legs yet. These children gave me an opportunity to apply the same principles with the expectation that it should work and, thankfully, it is for some,” Dr. Moore said.

Moore has completed 10 operations so far.

“I’m finding with nerve transfers that specific muscles I’ve tried to give an electric signal to are working,” she said.

Brandon has stopped using a wheelchair, but he uses a brace for walking.

“It means everything, like being on the second floor of school being able to go out to recess (and) having fun,” Brandon said.

Brandon and his father said they’re grateful to Washington University School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital in St. Louis for the progress they’ve seen over the past year in regaining mobility. As far as the future, they know there may be additional surgeries and intense therapy.

“If there’s another AFM parent out there, I know you’re in a dark place but there is hope,” Brian said.

Brandon had a word of encouragement for other AFM patients.

“I would say just keep working… sooner or later it’s going to be all right.”

Dr. Moore said she’s excited about the possibility that the nerve transfer surgery will help more children.

“We may be able to help them. I don’t plan to make them normal, but if I can give them something that they don’t have, that’s success,” she said.

Brandon is already practicing to get back to playing baseball, soccer, and football, and when he grows up, he said he wants to be a surgeon so he can help other children.

The Centers for Disease Control is expected to release a new report Monday on AFM.