An Alabama woman said her daughter remains partially paralyzed 18 months after being infected with enterovirus D68.
Kim Dillashaw said her daughter Kinley Galbreath, 7, can only move her right leg and her left hand months after coming down with the virus.
"She was quadriplegic and on life support in 24 hours," Dillashaw told ABC News.
In 2014, enterovirus D68 quickly spread throughout much of the U.S. although most people infected experienced minor respiratory symptoms before recovering. enterovirus D68 causes wheezing, coughing and runny nose. enterovirus D68 poses serious risks for individuals with asthma because they're more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.
The spread of enterovirus D68 also coincided with a rise of pediatric paralysis cases throughout the U.S. While officials have not definitively linked the virus to the paralysis, they are still looking at a possible association.
There were 1,153 confirmed cases of enterovirus D68 during the outbreak from 2014 to 2015. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the actual number was likely far higher.
Dillashaw, of Gardendale, Alabama, said that Kinley had mild asthma but that her infection progressed quickly. At first she just showed signs of sluggishness but Dillashaw said she felt "in my heart that something wasn’t right when she became sick."
Although she took her daughter immediately to the emergency room, Kinley became so sick that she needed help breathing and swallowing.
"She became completely quadriplegic," said Dillashaw. "Now in a 18-month period she has regained the [use of her] right leg and her left hand and wrist."
Dillashaw said Kinley needs machines to breathe but her condition hasn't impacted her fun-loving personality.
"She loves drawing and coloring and does that with her right foot," said Dillashaw. "She plays her iPad with her foot."
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said other viruses, like polio, can lead to severe inflammation in the spinal cord that can cause permanent or long-term damage.
"[Viruses can] attack the critical cells involved with movement and motor function" causing pressure to build, Schaffner explained. "If the cells had not been actually destroyed but only rendered dysfunctional," a patient may recover and regain movement and feeling, he noted.
Schaffner, who has not treated Kinley, said the issue is that too much pressure can cause cells to die, leading to permanent damage.
Dillashaw said with intense therapy, Kinley has been able to move her left hand again and she's hopeful her daughter will keep making slow but steady progress.
Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, said it's difficult to link Kinley's symptoms to enterovirus D-68.
"It’s not been clear cut, it’s difficult to diagnose...a link," he said. "To figure out we do a brain biopsy," which is difficult to do in living patients, he noted.
Esper said people with lingering paralysis after a viral infection can be in treatment for months or even years as they retrain their muscles.