The New Year started off like any other for 10-year-old Hannah Montgomery. The youngster was on holiday from school and she and her brother, Will, joined their father Chris for a bit of rabbit hunting.
“We had fun walking and watching the dogs look for rabbits, but we didn’t have any luck,” said Hannah.
Little did she know that her fortune was going to go downhill from there as she and her family rang in the start of 2020.
“While we were hunting, my back started to hurt a bit so I sat down for a rest,” recalls Hannah.
The following day, her parents went back to work, so she and her brother were at home hanging out, enjoying the school vacation.
“When I got up that morning, my back was still bothering me, so Dad told me to lay on the couch and rest and that Will would take care of the chores by himself,” she said.
A break from taking care of her farm animals initially sounded pretty good to Hannah as she sat in the recliner and watched videos on her laptop. But as the morning progressed, the pain in her back increased.
“My back started to hurt a little more and I thought I was starting to have muscle spasms,” she said. “Then the pain started spreading to my legs and they started feeling achy as well.”
Still the youngster wasn’t really alarmed, confessing she felt like it was probably just from all the walking from the day before, so she moved to the couch and laid down.
Fear set in later when she attempted to get up off the couch.
“When I tried to get up, my legs felt like Jell-O and I couldn’t hold myself up,” she said.
Even then she remained calm, and simply rested on the floor thinking it would pass.
When her mother, Paula, arrived home from work, she was immediately concerned and summoned her daughter, Morgan, who is an EMS ambulance worker.
At this point, Hannah was experiencing loss of feeling in her legs, so her brother Will carried her to the family’s van and they rushed to the emergency room at Scotland County Hospital.
Hannah was transferred that evening to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital as preliminary diagnosis was a neurological issue. After several MRIs and other testing, the young girl was admitted to the hospital on January 3rd.
‘They basically determined that she had swelling in her spinal column,” said Chris Montgomery. “They were calling it Transverse Myelitis.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) transverse myelitis is inflammation of the spinal cord (myelitis) with changing patterns in sensation (transverse).
It can be caused by infections or immune system disorders. Other more rare disorders are also known to impact the myelin, the substance that covers and protects spinal column nerves.
According to NINDS, symptoms include pain, loss of sensation in lower extremities, as well as bladder and bowel problems.
After the initial diagnosis, Hannah underwent a spinal tap to test her spinal fluid. At the same time she was administered aggressive doses of steroids to try to help reduce the inflammation.
The treatment generated a spike in her blood sugar levels, and Montgomery was tested at least five times a day, and had to have insulin shots from time to time to keep the blood sugar issue in check.
When the spinal tap test results came back normal, the doctors sought to treat the spinal inflammation with plasmapheresis treatments. She underwent seven such procedures, which remove the blood plasma, which NIH indicates helps remove antibodies and other proteins that may be causing the inflammation issues) and replacing it with other special fluids.
“The doctors explained that it works kind of like dialysis, removing my blood and taking out the bad stuff and then putting my blood back in, along with medicines to make plasma for me,” said Hannah.
Still not seeing the results they wanted, the doctors began intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) treatments, which is basically an effort to rest the patient’s immune system.
The treatment is a concentrated injection of antibodies gathered from multiple healthy plasma donors. According to the NINDS, The objective is for the IVIG infusions to bind with the antibodies in the patient’s blood, which may be causing the inflammation, and effectively remove them from circulation in the patient’s system.
“I had some more MRIs after the pheresis and steroids treatments and that’s when they decided to do the IVIG,” said Hannah..”I have had two sessions. One of the side effects is headaches, which I’ve been dealing with but they are giving me some medicine to help with that as well.”
The treatments have been making some slow progress. While Montgomery is still basically paralyzed from the waist down, she has started to regain some feeling in her legs.
“I have regained the feeling in my upper legs, they feel more normal,” she reported. “I’m also getting some feeling back in my lower legs and feet. It had been three weeks since I could feel my feet.”
According to the NINDS, most people who experience transverse myelitis experience at least partial recovery, usually within three to six months but also up to years out.
During the process, Montgomery is undergoing physical therapy and occupational therapy, working twice a day to rebuild core muscles as well as movement in her legs.
“I’m currently entering the Neurological Rehab program at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where I’ll be getting more hours of physical and occupational therapy each day,” she reported.
Even in the midst of the battle against the condition, Hannah is moving forward just like she started out the New Year.
“When I’m not in therapy, I am out and about roaming the halls at the hospital in my wheel chair hunting down something to keep me entertained,” she said.
Hannah would love to hear from folks back home. Anyone wishing to show their support can send cards or correspondence to Hannah Montgomery, Room 12-101, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, 1 Children’s Place, St. Louis Mo 63110.