Meeker family familiar with polio-like symptoms, illnesses afflicting number of children

MEEKER, Okla. - Robynn Briggs Stell was surprised to hear that a number of people with polio-like symptoms were popping up across the country, as her own daughter was diagnosed with the rare disease nearly two years ago.

"She couldn’t speak, we couldn’t understand anything she was saying," said Briggs Stell. "And so she went to (OU Children’s Hospital)."

That's where her then-12-year-old daughter, Sadie, was diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis, or AFM, in October 2016. Her illness, Briggs Stell said, started off as an ear infection that got progressively worse.

"She’s always had her vaccinations on time, everything’s followed, been very good about that," said Robynn.

"I could feel it all happening. One day my arm is tingling. and then the next day my face is all weird," said Sadie Stell. "One minute you can do everything and then the next, you can't."

After spending two weeks in the hospital, Sadie said it took about a year to get back to normal. However, she is still feeling the effects from the paralysis of her arm, part of her face. She had to drop out of school and is now home schooled and was forced to quit playing softball.

"When I was in the hospital, I could only move my fingers. Right now I can lift my arm up all the way," Sadie said of the progress she's made in physical therapy. "So far it’s been pretty good. It’s been working on my stamina, so I think it’s been getting better."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, AFM can be caused by a number of viral infections that can affect the nervous system, spinal cord, causing weakness or temporary paralysis.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma State Department of Health officials said a case from the summer has now been classified as AFM. Authorities say they are still awaiting confirmed lab results from the CDC. So far, the only detail being released about the patient is that he or she is an Oklahoma resident under 18-years-old.

Oklahoma, along with Arkansas, are two recent states joining a number of others across the country with possible instances of the illness, compared to polio because of its similar symptoms.

The CDC said there have been 62 cases of the disease this year. The cases stretch across 22 states, and most of the patients are children under the age of 18-years-old. Other possible cases are still under investigation.

Experts say the early symptoms of the disease include arm or leg weakness, and loss of muscle tone. Additional symptoms include facial drooping or weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.

According to the CDC, the most severe cases of AFM can lead to respiratory failure and even death.

At this point, health officials are not sure what causes AFM, but say that it can occur after a viral infection, West Nile Virus and other illnesses.

"Most have been tied to an infection of some sort. some have been tied to Zika virus, or other viruses," said Dr. Melinda Cail. "This is not something that we’re going to see a whole lot of. It’s very rare, but certainly dramatic when it does happen."

Cail said while rare, it's important to practice proper hygiene.

"Wash your hands, stay away from people you know are sick. The same kind of precautions we would recommend during sick season any year. but those are the best things we can do," she said. "Keep a close eye on your child if they become sick. And if you notice any of the weakness, progressing form the feet up, or the arms, obviously you want to seek medical care right away."