Ann Marie Parfenchuck

Having a medical emergency while away from home at college can be terrifying for not only the student, but the parents as well.

It was summer 2015 when Parfenchuck received a call from her son, Thomas, a student at University of Georgia. Thomas told his mother he had mono.

“I told him to take it easy and not do anything strenuous because there can be a lot of complications with mono if you’re not careful,” Parfenchuck said. Thomas didn’t listen. Parfenchuck and her husband were preparing
to leave for Florida when Thomas called to say he felt strange and wanted to go to the emergency room.

“He was already in Athens, so I told him to go there, but he was insistent that he drive down to Augusta to go to University Hospital,” Parfenchuck said.

“He said he didn’t think he could drive but said he was going to do it anyway.”

Parfenchuck and her 16-year-old daughter drove toward Athens, hoping to meet Thomas somewhere in the middle when all communication with Thomas ended.

“I tried to call him 24 times and couldn’t get any response from him because he had pulled over and passed out,” Parfenchuck said. “I had the sheriff’s department out looking for him; we were terrified.”

Eventually, Thomas revived to call his mother and let her know he was back on the road. “He was pretty much delirious at this point,” Parfenchuck said.

The two cars finally met at the Thomson exit, and when Thomas switched cars, his mother could see his legs shaking.

“By the time we got to the Emergency Department, he couldn’t walk at all,” she said. “He had lost all sensation in his legs.”

University’s Emergency Department physicians worked together to determine the cause of Thomas’ paralysis. An MRI confirmed his parents’ worst fears – Thomas had meningitis on his brain stem as well as along his spine.

“In the meantime, he got hepatitis and more and more viruses,” she said. “It was like a domino effect as his body fought itself, and it all started with mono.”

Thomas was sent to University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where his parents had to deal with the knowledge that their son might never regain the use of his legs. However, eventually – and slowly – sensation returned to Thomas’ legs, and he began to recover.

“I really credit the ED team for getting the people there who all worked together to figure out what was happening with Thomas,” Parfenchuck said. “They were all phenomenal.”

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