Local boy makes miraculous recovery from meningitis

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Luke Hill spent most of the second Saturday in March on a baseball field, which is not at all unusual for the first-grader or his family at this time of year. He played a few games in right field and got seven hits in eight at-bats - a solid day at any level of competitive baseball.

First-grader Luke Hill is playing baseball once again after winning a battle against bacterial meningitis. Special photo

He spent the second Saturday of February at Egleston hospital in Atlanta, a place no family wants to be, in the middle of a 14-day stay that at times left his loved ones as well as his doctors wondering if he would leave the facility alive. It was at about that point in his stay that he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, a rare and dangerous ailment that appeared mysteriously and went away in much the same way, at least from a medical standpoint.

What appeared to begin Monday, Feb. 6, as a common virus that goes around often this time of year took a young family on a two-week roller coaster ride that strengthened their own faith as well as literally dozens of others who tracked their progress.

Georgia Hill was told more than once that her son had the flu, but that diagnosis didn’t sit well with her. “I looked at him and I just knew something wasn’t right,” she said.

It was the advice she received from a close friend who is a medical professional that led her to first consider bacterial meningitis, three days before it was official. A visit to the Children’s Healthcare facility in Stockbridge led to a trip Tuesday night to Egleston, where a nurse took one look at Luke and had his name called immediately. By this time he had vomited repeatedly over 36 hours and was extremely dehydrated.

His temperature reached 104 as nurses attempted to get an IV connected while their patient moved constantly and uncontrollably. During the night he pulled out every tube and monitor connected to his skin, becoming delirious and pleading with his mother during other IV attempts, “Why are they hurting me?” After turning off the lights and using a special light from under his arm, nurses found a vein on the first try.

This incident was one of many throughout this two-week ordeal that found Georgia Hill and her husband John in constant prayer for answers and comfort for their child. A group of skilled and compassionate professionals spent the next day running a battery of tests for the most common flus and viruses; all came back negative. Then a team of infectious disease doctors arrived and examined the young patient while bombarding his parents with questions about his medical history. Finally a CAT scan and spinal tap were ordered, and when the results were positive Luke was moved to ICU.

The doctors were puzzled because, among other things, Luke was up to date on all of his vaccinations and had no other illness that led to his current condition. As his movements continued and got worse, the nurses in ICU were complemented by sitters who came in for 12-hour shifts to help him stay comfortable.

“They did not leave the room,” said Georgia Hill. “They literally sat there and watched him the entire time.”

After two nights in the hospital, Georgia’s mother Susan Edwards arrived with multiple sheets of paper containing Bible verses, and the women placed them on the walls around and over Luke’s bed. Then, as the family had done for decades, they prayed out loud for their sick child.

By Friday it was determined that he had strep pneumococcus, despite the fact that he was vaccinated against it. It rarely shows up in any child over the age of 2 for this reason. It is normally treated with penicillin but this wasn’t an option; it would have been expelled through his urine because his dehydration and constant intake of fluids.

When Luke opened his eyes that afternoon his parents realized that they were crossed. This is typical, they were told, as anything neuro-related can affect sight, hearing and even loss of limbs. It could also work itself out.

Another CAT scan was ordered that night to check for cellulitis. After that test gave a clear result, Luke’s face became less puffy and his eyes straightened somewhat, although one was crossed a little later.

From there his condition slowly improved. He was able to drink something that weekend for the first time, and he was able to leave the ICU for the neurology floor and even go outside for brief periods although only in low-stimulation situations, as noise and light bothered him. As his movements got under control it was easier to administer antibiotics, and he was put on steroids to help with inflammation.

As these positive results were being processed, a doctor put in perspective how serious the situation was and how impressive the recovery was. The fluid between Luke’s skull and his brain had been at maximum capacity.

“He should be brain-dead and he’s not,” the doctor said.

There were discussions about possibly having surgery in the future to correct his vision and the Hills were advised to consider cochlear implants and hearing aids for long-term hearing loss. But Luke’s mother knew by this time that those steps would not be necessary.

Upon checking out of the hospital Feb. 21, exactly two weeks after begin admitted, there have been follow-up visits. The audiologist who examined Luke Mar. 6 was stunned when comparing those results to what was observed during his hospital stay.

“This kind of hearing loss is usually not restored,” said Georgia Hill. “He is testing in the normal range for hearing now, and the doctors expected zero improvement.”

He resumed his studies Feb. 27 via the Henry County School System’s hospital homebound program, allowing his brain extra time to continue its recovery in his most comfortable environment. But his cognitive skills have not been impacted.

There are still some issues, such as double vision in one eye and some personality changes. He sometimes is easily irritated or impulsive, his mother said, but that is improving.

“We’re going to have ups and downs, good days and bad days,” she said. “But our child is alive.”

It only takes a few moments of reflection over her two weeks at Egleston - she never left once while her son was there - for her to get a big dose of perspective, remembering other young patients who were bald or missing limbs, vomiting in the halls because of the medical treatments and the illnesses that ravaged their small bodies.

“It affected our entire family,” she said.