COVID-triggered ADEM disorder leaves girl unable to see, speak

A rare disorder has turned the lives of 8-year-old Avella Bauer and her mother mother Lani upside down. Doctors say it's likely the disorder came about due to COVID-19.

With kids returning to classes in a few weeks, a Bloomington mother is pleading with parents to get vaccinated and make sure their children wear masks at school.

She says her 8-year-old daughter suffered a rare reaction to COVID-19 that has most likely changed her life forever.

Avella Bauer is a prisoner in her own body, unable to see, speak or move her arms or legs or feed herself. But just six months ago, she was an active young girl who loved sports, books, and most of all people.

"It was terrifying," said her mother Lani Bauer. "Absolutely terrifying."

Back in March, Lani Bauer says her daughter had a headache and mild fever and a few days later Avella wouldn't wake up. Paramedics rushed her to Masonic Children's Hospital with a fever-induced seizure and she's been there ever since.

"At the ER, I threw up," she added. "I couldn't believe what was happening. I got over here nonstop crying. nonstop crying."

Avella was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare disease where the body's immune system attacks its own cells and tissues causing swelling in the brain and spinal cord.

Doctors say ADEM is triggered by a virus and the only one Avella tested positive for is COVID-19 -- even though she didn't show any symptoms of having it.

"We have every reason to believe that COVID was the triggering virus here," explained Dr. Michael Pitt. "There's a few reasons I can say that. ADEM is triggered by viruses and COVID is a virus. Two, we're seeing cases all over the world of ADEM where the only virus they find is COVID."

After the better part of a year, Avella has shown some signs of improvement. But she'll likely suffer from disabilities for the rest of her life. Her mother wants other parents to get vaccinated and make sure their children wear masks to protect their loved ones from suffering the same fate.

"Please get vaccinated," Lani says. "Please and do not think it cannot happen to your child."

An online fundraiser has been set up to help Avella and her family through this difficult time.