Boy, 3, left paralysed by rare immune disorder stuns family by walking againOwen McLoughlin was two when he was struck down by Guillain-Barre SyndromeDoctors warned his parents he may never walk againBut toddler stunned medics by fighting back to take his first steps
15:38 GMT, 29 May 2012
A three-year-old boy left paralysed after being struck down by a rare immune disorder has made an amazing recovery.
As Owen McLoughlin – then two – lay in hospital, his parents were warned he might never walk again.
But the toddler stunned doctors by fighting back and taking his first steps.
Full recovery: Owen McLoughlin, pictured with his parents Taflyn and Sean, was left paralysed after being struck down by rare immune disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome
His mother Taflyn McLoughlin, 35, said: 'My biggest fear was him not recovering and being paralysed for the rest of his life.
'To look at him now, you wouldn’t know how ill he was. He has fought through it.
'He’s a miracle. That’s the only way I can describe it.'
Owen was paralysed from the neck down after falling ill in February last year.
WHAT IS GUILLAIN-BARRE SYNDROME
Guillain-Barre Syndrome – pronounced Ghee-lan Bar-ray – is a rare serious disease of the peripheral nervous system, a nerve network that controls the body's movements.
The body's immune system attacks these nerves causing inflammation. This causes pins and needles and can lead to temporary paralysis.
Around one in four will need a ventilator to help with breathing but most recover between a few weeks and a few months.
Around 1,500 people in the UK develop the condition each year.
The exact cause is unknown but more than half of sufferers have a viral or bacterial infection a few weeks before they develop the syndrome.
Mrs McLoughlin and her husband Sean, 40, from Solihull, West Midlands, first realised something was wrong when their son started limping.
The couple took him to their local GP who thought he might have an infection in his hip and referred him to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham.
Owen was kept in hospital for a couple of days while doctors ran tests, which came back clear.
They then thought a virus could be to blame and Owen was allowed home, but his parents soon took him back in after his limp worsened.
Mrs McLoughlin said: 'He was refusing to sit or stand and was crying out in pain.
'He was up all night screaming and very uncooperative. He was shouting: “Get off me”. We didn’t know what it was. It was terrifying.'
Doctors were baffled and ran a succession of further tests over the next week.
An MRI scan and a painful lumbar puncture revealed Owen had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system by mistake.
His parents, who kept a vigil at their son’s bedside, were warned the disorder could be life threatening if his breathing muscles became affected.
Poor outlook: As Owen – then two – lay in hospital, his parents were warned he might never walk again
Immediately, doctors have Owen a high dose of immunoglobulin to reduce the attack on his nervous system but his condition deteriorated until he was paralysed from the neck down.
For seven weeks, he could not move and would not eat, causing him to rapidly lose weight.
Mrs McLoughlin said: 'He was very weak. He couldn’t even hold his head up.
'I kept thinking why was it happening to us It was devastating. I was shattered by it.
'I asked the medical staff if he would walk again and they wouldn’t answer me. I tried not to be negative but I knew that wasn’t a good sign.
'I was frightened he would be paralysed for the rest of his life.'
Owen was in so much pain he needed the strongest dose of painkillers allowed for a child of his age.
Mrs McLoughlin said: 'He was in and out of sleep. They were pumping painkillers into him. It gave him half an hour of relief then he started screaming again.
'He wouldn’t let us touch him. It was awful not being able to hold and comfort my child.'
Inpirational: Owen, pictured with his older sister Alys, amazed doctors by making a full recovery
After a second course of treatment, Owen slowly started to respond and he moved for the first time.
His mother said: 'One day, he brought his hand up to reach his toy dog. It was just a huge relief. I remember phoning everybody.'
With the help of intense physiotherapy, Owen finally regained enough strength to leave hospital and go home to be with his parents and four-year-old sister Alys.
He still could not walk or sit up unaided and continued to have rehabilitation at home and in the hospital.
Mrs McLoughlin, who is an occupational therapist, said: 'He was like a seven-month-old baby. We had to back through every single milestone.
'We never knew if he was going to do it. It was an emotional rollercoaster. I was in tears the first time he walked.
'We really pushed him. I did whatever therapy I could to make him better.'
Now, a year on after his life-threatening battle with the disorder, Owen is back to full health and has started nursery.
Mrs McLoughlin said: 'Today, Owen is like a normal little boy. He’s really well. He’s always running around and loves playing on his scooter.
'I look back at the photos all the time. Owen doesn’t remember it but I’ll show them to him when he’s older. It’s important for him to know and understand.
'It shows his strength of character.'
For more information on Guillain-Barre Syndrome, visit http://www.gbs.org.uk/