Six-year-old Scot Poppy left paralysed by cold-like virus

A young girl from East Lothian has been struck down by a virus which began with typical cold symptoms.

Poppy was left paralysed by a virus. Picture: Contributed
Poppy was left paralysed by a virus. Picture: Contributed

Poppy Smith started to complain of a runny nose and achiness and was kept off school.

But within hours she was diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), or Enterovirus 68, leading to swelling on her spinal cord and causing painful nerve damage throughout her body.

The six-year-old, from Gullane in East Lothian, was rushed to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh in September after losing her ability to swallow.

The primary two pupil was tested for meningitis, a stroke and a brain tumour but an MRI scan came back clear.

A further scan of her spinal cord revealed Poppy was suffering from the paralysing condition which doctors believe has been caused by a rare reaction to the virus.

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It has no known treatment or cure. She is one of just two people in Scotland to have been struck down with the reaction.

Doctors are unable to give the family answers on Poppy’s long-term prognosis due to the rarity of her condition.

Mum Laura, 36, told The Daily Record: “The doctors told us it was a particular virus Poppy had and she’d had a very, very rare response to it.

“The virus itself is common in the community and lots of people have it – it makes you feel like you have a cold. Poppy’s body has had a neuroimmune response to it, so her immune system has basically attacked itself, causing inflammation on her spinal cord.

“The particular area of the cord that is affected controls her breathing, swallowing and the nerves in her limbs – which explains the paralysis.

“We were told that Poppy is only the second person in Scotland to have had this reaction and there are very, very few cases across the UK as well.

“There’s not much they can tell us about her prognosis or the long term because it’s so new.

“The best we can do for Poppy is give her time, support her with the condition she’s got and hope that her body recovers. They said she will be in hospital for at least 12 months.

“She might be well enough to go home before that but there’s a lot to get in place for us to be able to have her at home.

“Because of the ventilation and tracheostomy, she needs someone with her at all times and that can’t be just me and her dad Mark.

“We can support her but there needs to be an additional trained member of staff there, too.

“She wouldn’t have a safe airway if you took the ventilator away because she can’t breathe for herself. She also can’t keep her airways safe so if you took it away, her saliva would go into her lungs.”

Laura and Mark, 37, have two other children, Alex, 10, and seven-year-old Jessica.

The mum added: “Cognitively, she’s bright as a button. But she can’t communicate as well as she would like because we’re reliant on lipreading and that’s difficult with the palsy and she gets very frustrated because she’s six and has a lot to say.

“Only Mark and I can really manage to lipread with her because we know her really well.

“If you ask her what’s hard for her and upsets her, it’s not the paralysis, it’s not being able to speak.

“It sometimes takes us an hour to figure out a few words so that’s really difficult. I do worry that she’s going to start saying less because it’s too hard to try and talk.

“But on the inside, she’s still Poppy.”

A fundraising appeal has been launched by family and friends to help support Poppy’s future medical needs including the purchase of a special machine to help her ‘talk’.

They aim to raise enough for “eye gaze technology” to allow Poppy to use her eyes in the same way a computer mouse works to select different options.

It would allow the youngster to build sentences, look at pictures, play games and listen to music.

To donate to the Team Poppy fund visit: