Larose mom hopes to raise awareness after daughter diagnosed with polio-like illness

Lafourche Child diagnosed with AFM

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The CDC is now investigating 155 cases of acute flaccid myelitis nationwide. One Lafourche Parish mother hopes to spread awareness to other parents about the reality of AFM.

They thought it was just a simple cold five years ago.

“We became concerned when she couldn’t lift her left arm. That’s when we were really thinking it’s a little more serious,” said Amy Pierce.

Amy took her 4-year-old daughter, Marcella, to the doctor. That’s where they learned that a virus attacked Marcella’s spinal cord, paralyzing her limbs and requiring her to use a breathing machine.

“When she first got sick we just put it all in God’s hands to see what would happen. We just wanted her to be here with us. That’s what we prayed for, and she is here with us,” said Pierce.

Marcella was diagnosed with AFM or acute flaccid myelitis. Now, five years later, 9-year-old Marcella’s favorite subject in school is math, she loves playing with her siblings, and she even knows what she wants to be when she grows up.

“Deliver babies,” said Marcella.

Marcella says there are some days where she’s in pain. An in-home nurse helps with her 24/7 care between breathing treatments, taking vitals and stretching her limbs. Amy says Marcella also went through some intense therapy at the hospital to see if she could regain some mobility, but it wasn’t as successful as they hoped.

“Our whole life has changed, but she’s adjusted really well. As far as coming with us when we go places, we try not to let it stop our life too much,” Amy said.

It’s their new normal now, but before Marcella became sick, Amy says her daughter was always moving and dancing and running around. Though some of that has changed, she says Marcella is still as tough as ever.

But as tough as Marcella tries to be in the face of a mysterious disease, it’s still scary for a 9-year-old girl. Amy says she found a letter Marcella wrote to her parents.

"It says, ‘Mom and Dad, you all do not know what it is to be like this.’ And you know, we really don’t. We don’t know what it’s like to be like her,” Amy said.

While Amy grapples with understanding how or why this happened to her daughter, it’s a reality that Marcella struggles to understand, as well.

“To every parent out there, if your child complains about anything be vigilant about what’s going on with them, especially when it comes to weakness in their limbs,” said Pierce.

The community has helped start a fundraiser called The Marcella Project to raise money to install handicap swings at local parks and playgrounds.

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