A month ago, Cesar Martinez’s father and sister carried the teen out of his Pasco home — unsure why the normally healthy freshman couldn’t walk.
This week, the 14-year-old came home determined to return to school and to march again with his Pasco High band.
On Thursday nothing seemed out of the ordinary as he sat at his family’s dining table. The only sign of illness were a nearby walker and wheelchair.
But when he stood, the weakness in his right leg and arm was obvious. His father helped steady him on the walker and he moved uneasily to a couch.
Cesar knows exactly how long it’s been since he walked: A month and six days.
He began feeling sick during two weeks in early October.
His trips to the hospital started with a case of bronchitis. After recovering, he came down with what he described as a strange case of the flu. It felt like electric currents pulsing in his arms and legs.
The next bout of illness hit him three days later.
“I felt really weak in my legs. I couldn’t stand,” he said. “I tried to go to the restroom, and I fell.”
His father Pedro Martinez and sister Yuliana, 26, found him on the floor, unable to stand — one leg and arm paralyzed.
Cesar said his father was upset at first because he thought the boy was joking, and then Pedro realized his son couldn’t move.
When everything started, they felt sad and devastated. You’re in shock. You don’t know what’s going to happen ... You go from seeing your child walking to being in a wheelchair and being in bed.
“When everything started, they felt sad and devastated,” Yuliana Martinez said, translating for her father. “You’re in shock. You don’t know what’s going to happen. ... You go from seeing your child walking to being in a wheelchair and being in bed.”
When doctors tested Cesar, they found he had white blood cells in his spinal column — a symptom of transverse myelitis. The condition causes the body’s immune system to attack the spinal cord, causing it become inflamed.
It can damage or destroy the tissue surrounding nerve cells. About 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
And Cesar was one of the eight confirmed cases in Washington state this year of a rare type of transverse myelitis called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), said Cesar’s brother, Adalberto, 21. And three more cases are suspected.
After peaking in 2014 at 120 cases, incidences of AFM dropped last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But this year, incidences of the neurological condition are again on the rise. Eighty-nine people nationwide have been affected since January 2016.
But the cause of the condition that strikes children more often than adults remains a mystery.
It appears to be linked with a number of viruses, including enteroviruses, adenoviruses and the West Nile virus, reported the Seattle Times.
The family was waiting to find out why Cesar couldn’t move, when Yuliana saw the doctors at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland looking concerned, she said.
“They came inside of the room and said, ‘Well we found some white blood cells in his spinal cord,’ and when they tell you something like that, you’re blank,” she said. “What does it mean? What’s going on? You think the worst.”
The doctors asked the family to transfer him to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Cesar flew there with his mother Reyna, while Yuliana and Pedro drove 3 1/2 hours.
The family slept in shifts for several days as they waited and watched him carefully for any changes.
I was afraid I maybe wasn’t going to be able to walk again, but I stopped thinking about it and started thinking positive. My parents were there keeping me positive. That’s what got me through it.
Cesar spoke calmly about his experiences in the hospital. He said the doctors prescribed steroids to ease the inflammation.
“I was afraid I maybe wasn’t going to be able to walk again, but I stopped thinking about it and started thinking positive,” he said. “My parents were there keeping me positive. That’s what got me through it.”
The high school freshman is a trumpet player in the marching band. He smiled when he talked about being able to march before becoming sick.
“I like everything about playing the trumpet,” he said. “It’s not just the trumpet I like, it’s the flute, clarinet, saxophones, every instrument.”
Heidi Hanes, the school’s band director, said when the band members heard about Cesar’s condition they were spurred into action.
The students held a fundraisers at football and volleyball games and collected money in the band room.
“What’s cool about band is that all of those kids are really close,” Hanes said. “They were ready to donate. We took the whole marching band to the hospital. We worked with the hospital security. The kids brought him presents.”
What’s cool about band is that all of those kids are really close. They were ready to donate. We took the whole marching band to the hospital. We worked with the hospital security. The kids brought him presents.
Heidi Hanes, Pasco High band director
Band members raised about $1,200, and they plan to collect food for the family’s Thanksgiving.
The family still needs to install ramps and make other changes to their house, Yuliana said.
A GoFundMe campaign at bit.ly/cesar-martinez has raised about $3,000.
Yuliana, Adalberto and Pedro, who helps run a bus service, thanked everyone for their support and prayers.
“Honestly, the whole community has been here for all of us,” she said. “I want everyone to know we’re really thankful for their support.”
Cesar remains positive about his recovery and quick return to school. He meets with school officials Monday to figure out how to catch up with his classes.
“I’m continuing to do therapy here in Richland,” he said. “I can’t really stand much, standing straight without moving, I can stand for at least 10 minutes. Walking, I get tired pretty quick.”
“I know I can walk,” he said. “I just give positive notes to myself, like I know I’ll walk again. It’s probably happened worse to other people.”