6th grader fights to keep use of arm

Michelle Stuckey
April 23, 2010 at 8:49 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Jacob Andrews (center) poses with his grandfather, Sonny Barrient, and grandmother, Charlene.
Michelle Stuckey
Jacob Andrews (center) poses with his grandfather, Sonny Barrient, and grandmother, Charlene.
When Jacob Andrews, 12, first started complaining of arm pain in August 2009, his grandparents thought that he was just trying to get out of doing homework.

Little did they know that less than a year later their right-handed, energetic grandson would lose the use of his right arm.

A misdiagnosis by a trusted group of doctors  didn’t help matters, increasing the odds that the paralysis will be permanent.

Before Aug. 20, Jacob was a 6th grader at Albert Cammon Middle School who loved all sports, especially baseball. Now he is having to relearn how to write with his left hand and he may never be able to play baseball again.

“We've been living this since Aug. 20,” said Sonny Barrient, Jacob's grandfather and a resident of St. Rose. “Sleepless nights and horrible days…and the only thing that keeps us going is the will of God.”

The nightmare began when Sonny and his wife, Charlene, decided to take their grandson, who lives with them, to the pediatrician when he started complaining of a headache, back pain and nausea a day after his initial arm pains.

Once at the doctor, they were told to go to the emergency room at Ochsner Medical Center on Jefferson Highway where Jacob was admitted to the hospital for four days and a multitude of tests were run.

After all of the tests, the Barrients were met by a group of doctors who said decisively that their grandson had Transverse Myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.

“(The doctors) were not sure, they still seemed puzzled and confused,” Charlene said about the diagnosis.

After being prescribed occupational therapy, antibiotics and regular check-ups, the family, including Jacob's mother, Cheryl Andrews, went home to deal with this new obstacle in the young boy's life.

The Barrients first suspected something was amiss with the diagnosis when their son, and Jacob's uncle, who is a physical therapist told them that transverse meant “across the body” - a description that didn't match Jacob's problem.
Jacob finally returned to school in November, but the Barrients noticed something was wrong when he came home.
“We noticed that his fingernails were falling off,” Charlene said.

The family immediately rushed Jacob to the pediatrician who referred them to an Ochsner location on the north shore this time.

That's when the Barrients met Dr. Aaron Karlin, a man who they say has been their “savior” over the past few months.
“He was so on top of this,” Sonny said. “He did research with his colleagues. He's been our savior.”

After more tests and research, Jacob was diagnosed again, but correctly this time.

The family learned that the root cause of Jacob’s mysterious illness was a viral infection in the brachial plexus of his right shoulder. They were told that this type of infection is rare in children Jacob's age and usually only happens to infants during birth or victims of extreme trauma, such as a severe car accident.

They were then referred to Dr. Rahul K. Nath earlier this month.

Nath is the founder of the Texas Nerve and Paralysis Institute and he created the procedure that he hoped would give Jacob the use of his arm back.

“We packed up on Tuesday night and jumped in the car, we got to Houston on Wednesday evening and (Dr. Nath) saw Jacob on Thursday morning,” Sonny said. “(Dr. Nath) was very displeased with the fact that there was a possibility that he could not help Jacob. He still could be paralyzed for life.”

Because of the misdiagnosis, the infection in Jacob's body lay festering for eight months, almost closing the window of time that it is treatable.

The surgery may not have worked even after just one week, but the Barrients will always wonder what those eight months could have meant for their grandson.

Jacob underwent the operation and arrived back in St. Charles Parish on April 15.

Now the family must wait eight to 10 months to see if the surgery will make a difference.

While waiting to see if the surgery works, Jacob spends his time being schooled at home by a St. Charles Parish school system teacher and hanging out with his friends.

“Cammon (Middle) has been great with making sure he has had adequate help and whatever he has needed the entire time,” Charlene said. “The school system in St. Charles Parish has been very good to us.”

But even if the surgery is successful, Jacob will not regain the full use of his arm right away.

“(Dr. Nath's) hoping that the arm can bend at the elbow,” Sonny said of what the surgery's best possible outcome could be. If Jacob is able to bend his arm at the elbow in 10 months, then the next step will be a similar surgery in his wrist.

“It's a hurry up and wait kind of situation. With the help of God we'll get to the next stage.”

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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