When a Child Becomes a Stranger

Pandas: a paediatric disorder that became a mother’s worst nightmare

By Kelly O’Donnell

PANDAS. Unlike the cute, fuzzy bear that shares its name, this is a paediatric disorder that causes sudden and severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There’s also the possibility of a child who has recently contracted a strep infection developing tics.

There’s more. A PANDAS child will experience two or more of the following symptoms: separation anxiety, inability to concentrate or ADHD, urinary frequency, personality changes, irritability or aggression, deterioration in learning abilities, developmental or age regression, and insomnia. Almost overnight, it can appear as though the child is having a complete breakdown.

Indeed, not so cute and fuzzy. It’s what happened to my own daughter, Megan, in the fall of 2012. Over the course of 48 hours, she went from a perfectly normal seven year old to a non-functional child with OCD and tics, to name only a few of her symptoms.

It all began on a Wednesday night during her swimming lessons. She began looking over her shoulder every minute or so. It seemed odd, but her father dismissed it as a strange quirk. The next morning, my goodnatured girl was unusually and excessively irritable. She had a strange look on her face that was robotic in nature. Smiling looked painful.

Later that day, when Megan returned from school, she completely fell apart. In tears, she kept repeating every sentence four, five, six times or more. She also developed a strange patting behaviour, tapping her shoulders, hips, and knees as she spoke. Along with her tic, she began to rub objects and surfaces repeatedly, saying sorry for no apparent reason.

By bedtime she was lying on my lap, crying, a slave to the repetitions of OCD. Her responses to questions had become mechanical and she couldn’t make her thoughts stop long enough to get to sleep. I truly believed that my seven year old was having a nervous breakdown. But from what? I had no idea.

The next morning, as symptoms worsened, we decided that Megan needed to get to an emergency room. The doctor on duty suggested a strep test to rule out a rare disorder called PANDAS. We agreed to the test even though she showed no signs of a strep infection such as sore throat or fever. The throat swab was performed and we were sent home to wait for the results and to wait for Megan’s first mental health appointment, scheduled for five months later.

Megan’s story took a terrific twist the next day when the hospital called to say that she tested positive for strep, and antibiotics would be started immediately. The results, 24 hours after starting said antibiotics, were startling. She was almost 100 percent back to normal.

After extensive research, we now know that PANDAS is an auto-immune disorder whereby the child’s immune system mistakes a portion of the brain as a strep infection and attacks. This portion of the brain, known as the basal ganglia, is responsible for voluntary motor control, emotional functions, and the ability to learn routine behaviours. For more information and support, please visit www.pandascanada.wix.com/pandascanada

Spring 2014, Vol 6 N°2

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