GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Portage teen is fighting for her mobility after contracting Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
In August, 14-year-old Savanah DeHart wasn’t feeling well. She had a headache and was acting dazed and sluggish.
When her symptoms went from bad to worse over night, her mom took her to the emergency room at Bronson Methodist Hospital. There, Dehart was taken straight to the pediatric intensive care unit where doctors performed tests.
By the next morning, DeHart needed a ventilator to help her breathe. Nine days later, she was diagnosed with EEE.
The rare, mosquito-borne illness causes brain swelling and can cause severe brain damage or death. DeHart has lost her ability to communicate, move and needed assistance breathing.
The disease continued to progress.
On Aug. 22, doctors told Dooley that her daughter wouldn’t make it. They said the swelling had moved into her spinal chord and they didn’t think there was any way to return. But DeHart continued to fight.
“So from that day to now is a complete flip,” said Kerri Dooley, DeHart’s mom.
Through treatment and therapy, the swelling went down significantly and on Sept. 5, she was moved to Mary Free Bed Kids, where she is continuing to recover.
DeHart has finished the medical treatment of the disease, and now doctors are focusing on her rehabilitation.
DeHart’s days are long. She starts treatment first thing in the morning with a team of specialists, working to help her regain her speech and perform every day tasks like brushing her teeth and turning her head left to right.
“Simple things to you and I, but to her, not so much at this point,” Dooley said. “But it’s been pretty awesome to see.”
DeHart’s doctor says she is making progress.
“It’s slow, steady progress, but it is progress,” Dr. Douglas Henry said. “She cannot say any words, she cannot move her arms or legs very well, but she is starting to follow some commands and that’s very encouraging.”
Henry expects DeHart to make progress across the board. They don’t know if she will recover completely or if she’ll will ever walk again. Dooley says she hopes her daughter can be back to normal in the long run, but her short term goal is for her daughter to be able to communicate again.
“I just want her to be able to say ‘hi mom, hi dad,’ and hug us,'” Dooley said.