Part I: Joanna's Journey




Reporter: Jody Myers

Vincennes, IN October 28 -- Transverse Myelitis is an uncommon neurological syndrome caused by inflammation in the spinal cord. You probably haven't heard of it. Neither had the Peach family until their daughter, Joanna, almost instantly went from healthy to near death. The syndrome usually develops as a result of a viral or bacterial infection or from something like a spinal cord injury, or immune system reaction.

Inflammation can damage and destroy the lining around nerves in the spinal cord. The damage interrupts communication between nerves and the rest of the body. Transverse Myelitis develops rapidly and without warning and can even cause paralysis. The Peach's know how fast things can change. For the past three months, I've spent time with the Peach family whose lives have been forever changed by Transverse Myelitis.

Softball is Joanna Peach's favorite. Her best friend, Josh Bottoms, got her interested in sports. "He's a sweet kid. He's the one that taught me how to play most of the sports and gets me into all this stuff."

On June 12, 11 year old Joanna Peach went to bed nervous. She knew the next morning she'd find out if she was named to the "Sting" all-star softball team in Vincennes. "She got up at midnight and tried to go to the bathroom and couldn't," her mom, Beth Peach recalled.

"I tried to stand up and I couldn't. I just kept falling."

Joanna woke up paralyzed from the waist down. "She crawled into my bedroom and told us something was wrong. The first thing we though were her legs are sound asleep and we kept trying to get her to move them and after about a half hour we realized they weren't asleep," said her mom. "We took her to the emergency room and 12 hours later we were in the hospital."

Joanna's softball coach always described her as a real go-getter, a competitor. Now she had to be a fighter. "We rushed to Riley Hospital and went through the ER there and doctors told us she had Guillian-Barre and said probably within the week, she would be on life support. Well it wasn't long after that the nurse come in and got the doctor and said we're sorry, but you have 15 minutes to explain all this to her because we have to put her on life supports now!"

Within 12 hours, Joanna went from being a normal 11 year old kid, to paralyzed and in critical condition. "She looked up at me after I told her she was going to go on the ventilator and of course we told her how much we loved her and everything and she wiped my eyes and said 'Mommy, don't worry. I'm a tough 'ol cookie.' And that was the last thing she said and they made me leave."

Over the next 2 weeks, Joanna got worse. "We didn't know if she was going to make it or not! She went from her lungs collapsing, her oxygen dropping, her temperature 105-plus consistently, vomiting, her heart rate over 200."

Joanna was in and out of consciousness. Her only way of communicating was a magic pad which was always within her reach. "Seeing your daughter on life support. No parent should ever have to see that," her mom said. "That was the hardest thing. That machine was breathing for her and you don't know if she's ever going to come off of it."

But June 24th, her family says a miracle happened. "It's not just a miracle, it's several. And the fact that she had such a high temperature for such a long time and without any brain damage and the fact that I asked her youth minister to please use some connections and see what you can do and next morning I came in and she looks up at me and smiles and says 'Hi mommy.'"

Joanna's first request was to hold a bat. She wanted her picture taken to show her friends, especially Josh, that she was going to be okay. "He's the biggest little man I've ever seen! He would come up to Indy and he was so tough when he first seen her and then he cried all the way home and couldn't believe his little buddy was so sick."

By June 27th, Joanna was able to slightly move her right leg. "When they start to regain their strength, it usually comes back quick," her therapist Sara Kietzman said.

In Joanna's case, quick is an understatement! Joanna was moved to the rehabilitation floor at Riley Hospital. Therapy began immediately. "She has determination like no other kid I've ever seen."

Joanna wore her batting gloves in therapy every day to help her keep her grip and inspire her to give 110-percent to this new game of learning to walk again. "Cause it's not normal to have this and I want to be back to play basketball and softball and all the sports I was playing," Joanna said.

With help, Joanna could ride a stationary bike as long as Josh placed her feet on the pedals. And so began Joanna's journey on the road to recovery.

Ironically, the same day Joanna was put on life support and fighting for her life, she was named to the all-star softball team. Now Joanna's mind is focused on another goal, she's determined to walk again.






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