(WVUE) - A Louisiana family is dealing with an unimaginable tragedy as they grieve the loss of their teenage son. For months, they didn't know why as the Centers for Disease Control investigated.
Ashley Prestridge will tell you her son, Isaac, was happy, athletic and healthy, just like any other 14-year-old boy in the ninth grade. But their lives would change forever on Oct. 8.
"My son got sick very quickly, you know. I am a nurse and I could not figure out what it was, and I had no idea it would end up leading to his death," she said.
Isaac was the oldest of Ashley's four children. He and his family all came down with a run-of-the-mill sinus bug.
"None of his symptoms showed anything that I should be been really worried about. It was just like a regular fever virus is what it looked like," Ashley said. "On Oct. 3, that Tuesday, that evening, he popped up with a low-grade fever I treated it with Tylenol we got him an appointment for the next day because he wasn't feeling well and he saw a general practitioner she saw him, she tested him for mono and flu and strep and it all came back negative. She had some blood work done on him."
Isaac complained that his head and knees were hurting. His mother said he was given antibiotics and was sent home. That night, she woke him up at 11 to give him another dose of Tylenol.
"By 5 o'clock the next morning when I went to go check on him and see if he was doing any better, he was only responding to a sternum rub and he could only move his left hand," Ashley said. "He would just roll back over onto the right side. He appeared in a lot of ways to have had a stroke, and he was lying in a pool of vomit so something had transpired between 11 and 5 a.m."
She called 911 and Issac was airlifted to a hospital in Baton Rouge.
"He went from walking, talking, playing his Xbox to on a ventilator, unresponsive, to he died within a matter of three days," Ashley said.
Her young son who loved baseball, hunting and fishing was gone. And no one was exactly sure what caused his death. The CDC was called in to investigate.
"We are investigating a case that Louisiana did report to us," said Dr. Manisha Patel with the CDC.
After months of looking into the case, the CDC tells us they ruled out a serious disease called acute flaccid myelitis.
Issac mom has since been told the cause of her son's death was acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM.
LSU health pediatric neurologist Dr. Ann Tilton didn't treat Issac, but we talked to her about the rare disease.
"Even though ADEM does occur in our community and it occurs in all communities, usually people get on the other side of it and do well," Tilton said. "And so this is truly a tragedy on many levels for that family, because even though this disorder is rare, that was an incredibly rare outcome from it."
It can affect both children and adults. The condition itself is not contagious.
"Seems to be that your immune system basically over-responds, just like it does in multiple sclerosis, but it over-responds to maybe a viral trigger or bacterial trigger within a month after the illness," Tilton said. So it could be a nonspecific cold or something that all of a sudden the child starts having more and more difficulty."
Now, Ashley Prestridge is trying to find whatever good she can from Isaac's death. She said her son with the big heart would want her to do that.
"Had I have known and been able to go to the hospital with him and just push, I would have had to really fight for it," she said. "I could have had him at least in observation in the emergency room, and that would have prevented him from aspirating in his room. But I didn't know. Even with the knowledge and the education I have, I had no idea. "
She and her family are relying on their faith to get by, and she wants Issac to be remembered as the smart, kind, hard-working kid that he was.
"Very active child with a very good heart," Ashley said. "He helped several people clean up after the flood, and we didn't have to ask him to do it - he just wanted to do it."
The pediatric neurologist we spoke with says most regional medical centers only see about five to six cases of ADEM a year. She said even if your child is diagnosed with the condition, it doesn't mean they will have the most aggressive form of it. She added you could do everything right and still get it because it's the body's immune system responding to an illness.