Nerve transfer surgery for AFM is a surgical first

ST. LOUIS – If you're a parent, you may already know about the disturbing uptick in an illness that causes paralysis and weakness in young kids. 

Acute flaccid myelitis is rare, but it usually pops up in young, healthy children. 

There is no cure for the illness, but doctors continue to find new ways to give kids back some of what they've lost.  

Brandon Noblitt's life took an unexpected turn three years ago.

"I tried to get out of bed and I just collapsed," Brandon said.

"He was perfectly healthy before. Never really had anything, any serious diagnosis or any serious health problems. He was normal," said Brian Noblitt, Brandon's father.  

An MRI revealed the 9-year-old boy had acute flaccid myelitis, a poliolike illness that causes sudden paralysis. It's rare, but often pops up after an infection, such as the common cold. 

"I was thinking, 'Wow, what if, what if I never get better?'" Brandon said. 

Brandon had to adjust to life in a wheelchair. 

Nerve surgeon Amy Moore of Washington University of St. Louis was determined to get him out of the wheelchair. 

"The humanism of it, it hurts, because these are normal kids," Moore said.

In a surgical first for AFM, Moore transfers less important nerves from one part of the body to help the paralyzed leg. 

"We can cut it and remove it and resuture it under a microscope, and at a millimeter a day, inch a month, foot and a half a year, we get muscle function," Moore said.

It was a long wait, but eventually, Brandon's leg muscles started to quiver. 

"It was a sense of celebration. A sense of that 'wow, this is really starting to happen,'" Brian Noblitt said.

"I'm not making them normal, but giving them, waking up muscles to make them stronger so they can stand and so that they can walk," Moore said.

Moore said it can take four years to get the full effect. 

Brandon doesn't mind waiting. He's just glad to be out of his wheelchair. 

"I feel like I'm still getting better. I feel great. I can keep up with my friends and everything," Brandon said.

Moore has treated 13 children, with 10 more children scheduled over the next two months. Three of those children are out of a wheelchair and walking like Brandon. Others are regaining mobility, and the hope is they will continue to improve with time. 

Since 2014, there has been an uptick in AFM cases every other year.