Battling the unknown ...
by BETTIE MARLOWE, Banner Staff Writer
Jan 08, 2012 | 1435 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Heath and Brandi Eslinger, along with their three daughters, were happy to take their 11-week-old son home on Dec. 23 after a week-and-a-half stay at T.C. Thompson where he was diagnosed with botulism. The girls are, from left, Brookelyn 6, and twins Keelyn and Madelyn, 4. Banner photo, WILLIAM WRIGHT
Heath and Brandi Eslinger, along with their three daughters, were happy to take their 11-week-old son home on Dec. 23 after a week-and-a-half stay at T.C. Thompson where he was diagnosed with botulism. The girls are, from left, Brookelyn 6, and twins Keelyn and Madelyn, 4. Banner photo, WILLIAM WRIGHT
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As head wrestling coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Heath Eslinger found his most important challenge was wrestling with an unknown disease which had attacked his 9-week-old son Carson.

Eslinger and his wife, Brandi, a stay-at-home mom, already had 4-year-old twin girls, Keelyn and Madelyn, and 6-year-old Brookelyn, when little Carson was born Oct. 16, 2011.

They were a typical young family, not even thinking about a coming ordeal that could have taken their young son away from them. Before moving to Chattanooga recently, they attended First Baptist Church in Cleveland.

On Dec. 11, Brandi woke up and prepared to nurse her baby. But he was not moving and could not nurse. Worried, the Eslingers took him to his doctor, who, at first, thought he might have a virus and needed to be hydrated, but the child couldn’t swallow and was unable to eat. He was sent to T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital immediately.

The next day, little Carson’s symptoms worsened. “He was losing motor functions with paralysis affecting his facial expressions — his reflexes diminished,” Heath said. Related to neuromuscular junction critical elements of his body “... lost ability to respond or ‘fire,’” he added.

“All he did was sleep,” Brandi said. “The doctors didn’t know what to do.

They began to rule out the common illnesses and quickly narrowed down suspect causes, trying to discover how to determine treatment.

A neurologist was called in; Carson had a spinal MRI and spinal tap. Everything checked out normal, but the baby kept getting worse.

Carson was the “mystery baby” on the third floor. In that last 72 hours, he had only gone downhill and no one knew the cause.

Finally the diagnosis was in. He had botulism. But where and how did he contract it? — that was the question. They still don’t know. It is rare. Only 110 people in the United States were diagnosed with botulism last year.

When the doctors were convinced of the botulism diagnosis, they could begin treatment. This was the first time this treatment had been used by the hospital and they didn’t want to begin until they were sure, because of side effects.

Brandi said she didn’t know her 9-week-old baby would be a guinea pig, and she found herself praying it would be botulism. She said out of the other diseases it could have been, botulism was the only one without lifelong effects.

In the meantime, the community and churches in Cleveland and Chattanooga went to prayer for little Carson. Even the doctor at T.C. Thompson recognized, too, there had to be “supernatural intervention.”

Then in the night, Brandi said, her baby stirred and was moving side-to-side. After 1 1/2-weeks in the hospital, Carson was moving his arms. “Out of the blue,” she said, “he began improving.”

“He was so much better — we prayed he would be home before Christmas,” Brandi said. And, Eslinger added, “he came home on Dec. 23.”

Baby Carson surprised everyone — showing up on Facebook, wearing a red outfit and holding a sign which read, “Thanks for praying for me.”

The Eslingers said they couldn’t say enough good about the doctors at T.C. Thompson’s and their Cleveland pediatrician.

Carson’s improving every day. His muscle tone is coming back and he’s starting out the New Year without the feeding tube he came home with.

“We’re so very thankful,” the Eslingers agreed. Brandi said she couldn’t describe the emotions and the scary moments they had. “Babies can go into respiratory failure,” she added.

Their story, they said, is being told simply to help others — “that is our hope — anything to help others recognize this and know what to do.

Botulism is most common in infants

According to the Mayo Clinic, infant botulism is the most common form of botulism.

Typically occurring between the age of 2 and 6 months, it begins after Clostridium bolulinum bacterial spores grow in a baby’s intestinal tract.

There is a food-borne botulism, in which the bacteria thrive and produce the toxin in environments with little oxygen, such as canned food.

The disease has occurred from chili peppers, baked potatoes and oil infused with garlic. Eating foods containing the toxin, disrupts nerve function, causing paralysis.

Wound botulism occurs if the bacteria get into a cut. They can cause a dangerous infection which produces the toxin.

The symptoms of wound botulism typically start about 10 days after being infected by the bacteria.

Certain signs and symptoms not usually present are no elevation in blood pressure or heart rate, no confusion and no fever. But all types of botulism can potentially cause death and all are considered medical emergencies.

Signs and symptoms of food-borne botulism typically begin between 12 and 36 hours after the toxin gets into the body.

If infant botulism is related to food, such as honey, problems will generally begin in the same time frame.

Symptoms of infant botulism include constipation, floppy movements due to muscle weakness, trouble controlling the head, weak crying, irritability, drooling, drooping eyelids, tiredness, difficult sucking or feeding (the most obvious) and paralysis.

Babies get infant botulism after consuming spores of the bacteria, which then grow and multiply in the intestine and make toxins.

The cause of infant botulism may be honey, but more likely, it is exposure to soil contaminated with the bacteria.