Monday, August 25, 2008

Encephalitis transmitted by mosquito caused seizures

The first words in Debbie Solberg’s journal are: SUMMER INTERRUPTED.Her 6-year-old son, Clayton, was busy this summer playing T-ball, taking swimming lessons and participating in the summer reading program.

Clayton Solberg plays in the yard with his mother, Debbie. Clayton, 6, contracted La Crosse encephalitis and has to wear a helmet when walking because his balance has not yet fully returned. Erik Daily photoDebbie, husband Mike, Clayton and his 4-year-old brother, Spencer, enjoyed the summer band concerts and weekend trips to parks.

They had planned a vacation before Clayton started school again.Instead, Clayton spent 27 days of his summer in the hospital, fighting for his life.He was critically ill with complications from La Crosse encephalitis, a disease that affects the nervous system and usually has a death rate of 5 percent to 20 percent among children.A mosquito — Aedes triseriatus — almost killed Clayton.“I knew about mosquitoes and encephalitis, but I didn’t know how devastating it can be,” Debbie said.

“He was one sick little boy, and there was no magic medicine to cure him.”Back at homeClayton was released from the hospital five days ago and returned to his Galesville home.Summer passed him by, and he came home a different child.

“He’s starting to heal and glad to be out of the hospital, but we had no idea it would affect him in so many ways,” Debbie said.Clayton has a wheelchair to use because he wobbles when he walks. When he does walk, he wears a football helmet without the face mask to protect him from a potential head injury.He easily loses his balance and already has fallen several times. He can’t ride his bike or climb or jump.

“We see a lot of deficits, and it’s been devastating to him physically, but he’s so much better and has made so much progress the last 10 days — and that gives us hope,” Debbie said.Clayton has trouble as well with coordination, speech and memory. He experiences mood swings.“He’s very frustrated,” Mike said. “He knows something happened, but he can’t find the words.”Clayton is taking seizure medication and other drugs to help his recovery, and he has received extensive therapy.When he enters first grade at Galesville Elementary School, Clayton will receive physical, occupational and speech therapy, along with other assistance.

“I’m happy how he’s doing and very hopeful he’ll be much better a year from now,” Debbie said. “We feel we have a different boy, but we love him just the same.”Logging the illnessDebbie kept a journal throughout her son’s illness while she stayed with him at the hospital.It all began July 11 when Clayton was tired and had a headache. The next day he was vomiting, so Debbie took him to the urgent care department at Gundersen Lutheran’s Onalaska Clinic.“I noticed something different — the staring spells, and he was real lethargic,” Debbie said.

By the time he saw a doctor, Clayton had improved. He went home, rode his bike and played with his friends.“The next day (July 13), he woke up crying and he said his legs don’t work, and he had a blank stare,” Debbie said.

Debbie and Mike again took him to urgent care in the Onalaska clinic. “He could hardly walk, and he was staring off to the side,” Debbie said. “Within five minutes of getting to the clinic, he started having seizures.”He was hospitalized for five days.Three days after his release, he had another seizure July 22 that lasted more than five minutes.Back at the hospital, another seizures lasted five hours and took six medications to stop. Clayton was sedated and on a ventilator at Gundersen Lutheran.“I thought I might lose him,” Debbie said.

“I told a nurse, I needed a miracle, and the nurse said, ‘They happen all the time.’”Clayton also had an airway obstruction and couldn’t breathe for a short time, requiring emergency surgery, she said.“There are not words in the English language that are adequate enough to describe the horror and terror of watching your child have a seizure lasting five hours or watching helplessly as your child is unable to breathe,” Debbie said.

His illness left Clayton confused and hallucinating as well.“He has no experience to relate to a seizure,” Debbie said. “During the worst of it, he doesn’t remember. He knew something happened.”The diagnosisDoctors first suspected the West Nile virus had caused Clayton’s encephalitis.“I thought, ‘At least it’s not La Crosse encephalitis, that is so much more worse for a child,’” Debbie said. “But then encephalitis was confirmed.

It was a relief that we knew what it was.”Clayton became the first 2008 case of encephalitis in the La Crosse area.Debbie said she and her husband told their son a mosquito had caused his illness.“We told him it was unusual, and that it would never happen again,” he said. “We don’t want him to be afraid to go outside, and he hasn’t been.”

Dave Geske, mosquito control officer for the La Crosse County Health Department, didn’t find the encephalitis-carrying mosquitoes on the Solberg property but did find them in tires in a dump area not far away.“We’re glad Clayton is doing as well as he is, and we’re thankful for all the prayers and support of friends and relatives — and the great medical care he received,” Debbie said.“But I can’t look at life in the same way now,” she said.


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