Boy, 4, Paralyzed Over a Matter of Hours Diagnosed With Rare Disorder

A 4-year-old boy from Sydney who went to bed happy and healthy woke up unable to move his legs, telling his mom: "Mummy I can't feel my legs."

Oliver Davis' mother, Bel, took her son to a local doctor who called him an ambulance, beginning the search for the cause of the boy's sudden and mysterious paralysis, Australia's 7News reported.

As the next 48 hours progressed, Oliver Davis' condition worsened, leaving him unable to move from the shoulders down. Five days later he lost his ability to speak and swallow, lost control of his bladder, and had to begin being fed via a feeding tube.

Following a barrage of tests, including an MRI and a lumbar puncture, the 4-year-old was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disorder that occurs when a person's own immune system damages their nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that GBS causes symptoms that usually last a few weeks to several years. Though some people fully recover from GBS, a condition that can prove fatal, many are left with permanent nerve damage.

About 1 in 100,000 people are affected by GBS, with an estimated 3,000-6,000 people developing the condition each year in the United States. Though anyone of any age can develop GBS, according to the CDC, in the U.S. it is most common in men over 50.

The CDC says that several things are known to trigger GBS, two-thirds of people who suffer from the condition have had diarrhea caused by a bacteria called Campylobacter jejuni several weeks before developing symptoms. Infection with this bacteria seems to be one of the most common risk factors of GBS.

About 1 in 1,000 reported Campylobacter infections lead to GBS and the bacteria is responsible for around 40 percent of GBS cases in the U.S.

Other infections like flu, Epstein-Barr virus and Zika virus can also result in a person developing GBS. The CDC also points out that in rare instances GBS can develop after a person receives certain vaccines.

While GBS isn't contagious, clusters of the condition can be caused by outbreaks of the germs and bacteria associated with it.

An example of this occurred in June 2011 in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, Mexico, and Yuma County, Arizona, when 26 people developed GBS. Of these, 21 reported diarrhea prior to the onset of the condition. Additionally, 18 of these 26 people tested positive for Campylobacter infection.

A paper published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection said that an environmental assessment suggested that GBS cases resulted from a large outbreak of Campylobacter jejuni from inadequately disinfected tap water in San Luis Río Colorado, resulting in the first cross-border GBS outbreak in mainland North America since 1976.

Following the onset of GBS symptoms in June 2018 and his diagnosis, Oliver Davis was treated with steroids and strong pain relief to help with both his nerve pain and sensitivity to hot and cold sensations developed as a result of the condition.

The 4-year-old's health improved with him eventually being able to get out of his wheelchair and remove his feeding tube, and even race his mom Bel on foot. This recovery was followed by a relapse in September 2018, during which the young boy's paralysis returned.

After spending around three months in hospital undergoing a second round of treatment, including painful daily therapy and physio sessions and taking inspiration from his favorite superheroes, Oliver Davis was finally able to go home.

His mother, Bel, told 7News: "He was a real trooper and endured so much. Seeing Oliver laugh and play during recovery after he has been through so much... is just so priceless as a parent."

Boy Hospital Bed
A stock image of a boy in a hospital bed. A 4-year-old from Sydney, Australia, was left paralysed over night as a result of a rare auto-immune disorder. spukkato/GETTY