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Cary-Grove student's speedy recovery from rare disorder deemed 'miraculous'.

Byline: Madhu Krishnamurthy

Cary-Grove student's speedy recovery from rare disorder deemed miraculous'

Within a matter of days, Lars Petersdorff went from being an active high school student preparing for final exams to becoming paralyzed, losing his vision and ability to speak, and requiring life support to breathe.

Five months later, Lars is back to singing and dancing with his high school swing choir and musical theater group a turnabout his doctors are calling "miraculous."

In late December, Lars was with a rare, sometimes fatal, neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome in which the body's immune system attacks its nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

"The outlook from the beginning wasn't that good," the 17-year-old Cary-Grove High School junior said of his condition in December. "I went from being able to walk into the hospital to being paralyzed, bedridden. ... I couldn't breathe on my own. I had a very extreme case of it. It was extremely rapid onset, within the time of two days."

The exact cause of Guillain-Barre syndrome is unknown. It is often preceded by an infectious illness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In the U.S., an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people on average develop Guillain-Barre syndrome yearly about one to two cases per 100,000 people.

Though anyone can develop it, the syndrome is more common among adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is no known cure. Some therapies can lessen its severity and shorten recovery time.

Two commonly used treatments to interrupt immune-related nerve damage are plasma exchange and high-dose immunoglobulin (protein) therapy.

Recovery time for Guillain-Barre syndrome varies by case, typically running from four to six months, and can take up to three years in the most extreme cases. While most people recover fully, some have permanent nerve damage or have died in rare cases.

Lars' recovery within two months after diagnosis "defied the norms," said Mohammad Ikramuddin, a pediatric neurologist at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge.

That tingling feeling

It started with a slight tingling sensation in Lars' left hand and foot. "I thought I just slept on my hand wrong," Lars said.

That tingling feeling soon spread to Lars' face, and a few days later he woke up with double vision, which still didn't prevent him from driving to school to take his winter final exams.

By the end of that day in mid-December, Lars' double vision worsened to where he drove home to Fox River Grove with one eye closed.

Parents Regina and Jeff Petersdorff were "dumbfounded" to see their son's health decline so rapidly.

Lars had been healthy all his young life, having had nothing more than a couple of stitches on his lip after a fall from longboarding when he was 12. He never before spent a night in a hospital.

"It was very surreal," Regina Petersdorff said. "It was terrifying not knowing what he had but watching him get worse literally by the hour."

Lars was admitted to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge on Dec. 19. The next two days, doctors and specialists ran a battery of tests blood work, X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and EKGs.

Finally, a lumbar puncture showed elevated levels of protein in Lars' spinal fluid indicative of Guillain-Barre syndrome.

e also was found infected with the Epstein-Barr virus belonging to the herpes virus family and among the most common human viruses.

Road to recovery

After 14 treatment sessions of intravenous immunoglobulin, or IVIG, transfusion it helps fight off infections and plasmapheresis it filters the blood and removes harmful antibodies over two weeks, Lars' sickness plateaued and he began to get better.

"He responded dramatically to the treatment given," Ikramuddin said. "It definitely was (miraculous)."

Beyond the medication's role, Ikramuddin attributes Lars' dramatic recovery to his strong will and determination.

"Despite being totally paralyzed, unable to breathe, he never gave up," Ikramuddin said.

"His mental strength and the resolve and support of the family, those factors do matter."

A vision board in Lars' hospital room covered with photos of him with his friends "of how I used to be and how active I was gave me a sense of hope," he said.

Discharged from the hospital Feb. 12, Lars underwent several weeks of rehabilitation and outpatient therapy. He remains symptom-free and the risk of the virus recurring is low. Other than nerve damage in his legs, Lars said there haven't been any lingering effects of the virus.

Having missed two months of school, Lars was determined to make up for lost time. The day of his release from the hospital, Lars participated in his high school musical rehearsal. Since then, he has attended prom and went on a spring break trip to Florida with his Christian youth group.

"I have gotten back to everything I was doing before. ... Now, I'm back to 100 percent," Lars said.

The ordeal also has given him a new perspective on life. "It's definitely given me a greater appreciation for all the things that I have. I'm a lot more grateful," Lars said.
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Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:May 31, 2019
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