AFM disease: Northwest Indiana girl, 9, returns home after 8 month hospital stay for rare polio-like illness

An ABC7 Eyewitness News Exclusive
CHICAGO (WLS) -- A 9-year-old girl from northwest Indiana returns home Thursday after an eight-month hospital stay while she's been fighting a rare, polio-like illness that mostly affects children.

The disease is called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM. The symptoms are serious and include partial paralysis, but the cause is still a mystery. The Centers for Disease Control tracks cases of AFM, and says they see a spike every two years.

With the next spike in cases expected in 2020, Izzy Hill is ready to share her message of hope.

There were 228 cases of AFM in 2018. She was not the only child in Chicago treated for the disease.

Izzy's spirit is strong; her will is stronger. And she is already helping other kids like her with AFM.

"I'll be at home with my friends and my dog," Izzy said.

"I don't have words," said her father Brian Hill.

"She's one of a kind, she's just a strong kid," said her mother Robin Davaney. "Always has been."

That strength was tested in August 2018. It began when the vibrant 8-year-old complained of a headache at school. The next day she lost feeling in her arm and neck, and within hours she wasn't breathing on her own.

"I think it was rougher on me than it was on her, because at some point what do you do? You're here to protect them," said Brian.

For weeks, while Izzy fought to stay alive, her family searched for answers.

"When the people you look to that are helping you tell you, like, 'We don't have any answers for you,' you just sit there with time to think, you know?" Brian said.

Finally, at Lurie Children's Hospital, doctors concluded she had acute flaccid myelitis.

"I would say if you notice any paralysis in your child whether it be a neck or an arm or anything like that you would go to a level one trauma center immediately," said Robin.

During her time in the hospital, Izzy became fast friends with Julia Payne of Batavia, who, like her, was hospitalized with AFM. Izzy was able to help Julia take an important step toward her recovery.

"Julia was having a hard time wanting to try to take a swallow, so Izzy took a lick of the sucker first with Julia, and it inspired Julia to try the sucker, and she's come so far. Both of them have come so far," Robin said.

Izzy got her voice back about four months ago. She can wiggle her toes, squeeze and move her left hand, and just weeks ago moved the fingers on her right hand.

Her homecoming is also special for her siblings.

"Just excited for her to come home and be with the family again,' said her older sister Alexyss.

Alexyss is going to take advantage of Izzy's helpful side.

"Sometimes she would teach me how to do my math homework when I had no idea how to do it," she said.

And her older brother Gavin knows he has to brush up on his gaming skills.

"Always wanting to play games. Trouble. Monopoly," he said. "She's gonna win, yep."

As this new chapter begins for Izzy, she wanted to share one message with other kids like her.

"I just want them to keep on trying and don't give up," she said.

Izzy's paralysis is almost certainly permanent but she has already stunned her doctors. Moving her fingers in her right hand weeks ago was, her family said, simply a miracle. It shouldn't have been possible.

If there is anyone with AFM who can continue to beat the odds it's Izzy Hill.

Izzy's family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with the financial burden of her diagnosis and treatment.
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