Rare disorder threatened to paralyze their little boy

Patient Stories |



Three-year-old Silas is fearless, but his parents were terrified when he began stumbling and falling. Riley physicians put him on the path to recovery.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Silas Overpeck is an active, fearless 3-year-old. So, when he started complaining of pain in his legs and began stumbling when he walked, his parents noticed.

It all started with a high fever of 103 in late May, but within a day he was better. Or so Jenna and Michael Overpeck thought.

A few days later, Silas woke up with leg pain. They gave him ibuprofen and massaged his legs, and he was fine the next day. But the pain persisted, often at night through the week.

“His legs would hurt, but he would play hard,” Jenna said. “It wasn’t slowing him down until the end of the week and he wasn’t wanting to eat.”

A visit to the pediatrician yielded concern but little clarity. In fact, Silas was doing ninja kicks in the doctor’s office, his mom said. But when Silas began tripping and falling at home, his parents brought him to the emergency department at Riley Hospital for Children.

After tests for flu, COVID and other abnormalities came back clear, physicians began to suspect Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. Weakness and tingling in the hands and feet are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can spread quickly, eventually paralyzing the body.

The condition is believed to be triggered by an acute bacterial or viral infection.

Jenna, an ICU nurse at IU Health Methodist Hospital for 10 years before stepping back with the birth of her third child, has seen Guillain-Barre before, but never in someone so young.

Several doctors collaborated on Silas’ care, including Dr. Jodie Meara, Dr. Sam Williams and Dr. Laurence Walsh, and when tests revealed the likely cause, IVIG (intravenous immune globulin) treatment was started within hours.

Silas began responding to treatment quickly, and five days later he was back home in Center Grove with his parents and two siblings.

“He’s always been go, go, go,” Jenna said. “He wants to do it all. Doctors told us we’d have to watch him on the stairs and on his bike because he was still wobbly.”

While a teenager or adult would know what their body had just gone through and understand their limits, Silas doesn’t make that connection, she said.

“He may think, ‘Well, I’m wobbly, but I’m going to keep up with my big sister.’”

Silas goes to physical therapy near his home twice a week and is doing well, just a few weeks after his hospitalization, his mom said. She credits Riley’s quick action for her son’s near-complete recovery.

“If we had gone somewhere else, he might have been sent home when his head CT came back clear. Then he would have gotten progressively worse. But because Riley clinically sees this, I think they were able to respond quickly.”

It wasn’t just the medical care but the compassionate care that Jenna said made a difference. After squeezing Silas into the schedule for an MRI and lumbar puncture, Dr. Meara and her medical fellow sat with Jenna and Michael while their son was undergoing the tests.

“Incredibly kind” is how Jenna described it. “For physicians to sit with us and just comfort us … they took that extra step.”

Even with her nursing background, Jenna said she asked the doctors and nurses to explain things to her again and again.

“They took a lot of time answering our questions. It meant a lot. When you have providers you can trust, it makes a huge difference.”

Jenna knows that her little boy stole some hearts while he was at Riley. She also knows that despite how difficult the ordeal has been, it could have been much worse.

“I would sit in the hospital at night and just think about how everyone here is going through hard things, but there is always hope,” she said. “We are so thankful we had our faith to lean on during this time. It is a part of this journey, too.”