Carrollton Boy Gets Brain Infection From Flu

A healthy 8-year-old boy was diagnosed with the flu. The next day, his mother says, doctors discovered the flu caused a life-changing infection in the boy's brain.

(Published Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018)

The flu epidemic has had life-changing consequences for a Carrollton family.

Desiree Buckingham-Ramirez says her 8-year-old son is battling a brain infection that doctors say was caused by the flu.

Witten Ramirez is typically full of life, as he shines through his autism, according to Buckingham-Ramirez.

"He's a rock star. Everyone at school knows him. Everyone calls for him," she said. "It doesn't define him, but it definitely defines his personality!"

Last week, she says Witten came down with the flu, like the rest of his family, but she says Witten's symptoms were much worse.

"He's sleeping way too much," she said. "He stumbled a little bit, but I kind of chalked that up to, 'Hey, he isn't feeling well.'"

Concerned about a reaction to medication, she rushed Witten to the emergency room.

Testing revealed the flu caused an infection inside the part of his brain that controls movement.

Now, she says, "He can't walk, he can't sit on his own, he can't stand, he can't talk. It's taken everything."

"In the vast majority of adults and children who get a neurologic complication, we don't understand the reason why," said Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist at Children's Health and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

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Greenberg says the condition is called cerebellitis, a rare inflammatory process that can become a complication from the flu in very rare instances.

It's so rare, he says, it only affects affects a tiny fraction flu patients.

However, there are no known risk factors for it, and, as in Witten's case, autism doesn't contribute to the condition.

"You can have otherwise seemingly healthy individuals whose bodies handle flu in such a way to lead to a neurologic complication, which is why we spend so much time focusing on prevention," Greenberg said.

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The best prevention, he says, is the flu vaccine.

Buckingham-Ramirez says Witten didn't get the shot this season like in the past.

"I had no idea the flu was going to be that bad this year," she said.

She says she plans to vaccinate him next year.

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Doctors say children can recover from the condition, but it may take many rounds of rehabilitation, which has now been planned for Witten.

"It's heartbreaking to see your happy kid destroyed by the common flu," Buckingham-Ramirez said.

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