Health & Medicine

Toddler walks again thanks to UK radiologist

Less than three months after she was paralyzed by a genetic abnormality, Chloe Wash, right, was making brownies with big sister Natalie.
Less than three months after she was paralyzed by a genetic abnormality, Chloe Wash, right, was making brownies with big sister Natalie. © Mark Cornelison

The day after her family's Labor Day pool party, 2-year-old Chloe Wash started limping. Soon, she was dragging her leg as if it were asleep.

By Wednesday of that week, she couldn't walk. Chloe's legs felt cold to her mother, Lena Wash.

Watching Chloe descend into paralysis within days "was the worst thing I've ever gone through in my entire life," said Drew Wash, who had spent a year at home with his youngest daughter while unemployed.

Watching her walk again is now the best moment of his life.

Last week, his young daughter flitted around the UK HealthCare offices as Drew Wash talked, tossing her blonde pony tail. Her daddy simply watched, awe-struck still.

Only a few weeks ago, doctors thought his daughter might have Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that is one of the leading causes of non-trauma-induced paralysis. But Chloe had a spinal tap and an MRI, and she didn't have Guillain-Barré.

Dr. Abdulnasser Alhajeri, a Bahrain-educated assistant professor of radiology who had just started at the University of Kentucky in August, was called in to consult about a spine angiogram, and he noticed an abnormality in Chloe's mid-thoracic region.

Ultimately, he determined that Chloe's condition was caused by an arteriovenous fistula — two arteries joining a single vein that affected Chloe's spinal cord.

An arteriovenous fistula is formed when blood flows directly from an artery into a vein, bypassing capillaries and depriving tissues of blood supply.

Alhajeri began looking for the least invasive method to help improve Chloe's condition. On Sept. 27, he injected a surgical glue called onyx into catheters half as wide as a coffee stirrer into the fistula. He had performed a similar procedure before, but only in an adult.

Neither the Washes, who are amicably separated, nor Alhajeri knew how well the treatment would work.

By the second day after the procedure, Chloe was standing.

Then she started walking with help.

Today, Chloe is walking again — not only walking, but jumping, climbing, commandeering the phones at UK HealthCare, sweeping the floor with a costume brush and chatting merrily in a language decipherable only by other toddlers.

She was discharged from the hospital Oct. 2.

Alhajeri said Chloe's condition "is so rare that we don't know how they recover."

Chloe's arteriovenous fistula is a congenital defect. She was born with it, but apparently it did not affect her noticeably until she stopped walking.

It's difficult to tell when she began to feel the damage. Chloe had been crying a lot more than usual in the weeks before her hospitalization, leading her parents and doctor to hypothesize that she had been feeling some pain but was unable to articulate it.

Alhajeri now watches Chloe with a sense of wonder. He became a doctor to help people, he said, but never expected to see such results.

Could it be called a miracle?

He pauses, looking at the blonde toddler a few feet away, with her blue twirling skirt and tiny black boots and the miniature Reese's peanut butter cup she has lifted delicately from a nearby candy jar.

Maybe, he said.