Woodland teenager Elianna Neumann spent New Year’s Day in a familiar but rueful place — Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
The 15-year-old returned home Sunday after doctors at OHSU hospital last week diagnosed her with meningoencephalitis for the sixth time.
“Every time she gets it and recovers, we say it’s the last time, we’re never going to have to deal with this again,” said Elianna’s mom, Miranda Neumann. “But every single year for the last three she’s gotten it.”
Elianna first came down with viral meningitis and encephalitis in 2013, when she was 10. She’d gone a little over a year without a relapse since the last previous infection in November 2017. The virus inflames tissue around the brain and spinal cord and can cause neurological damage.
This year’s infection came on faster than usual, developing over one day instead of three, she said. Elianna woke up on New Year’s Eve with a bad headache, a side effect from the past infections. Just hours later, she had back and neck pain and by that evening lost her ability to walk on her own before her mother took her to Doernbecher.
“I took her in and told them I was sure it was meningitis,” Neumann said.
Headache, stiff neck, fever, nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of viral meningitis. Most people who get the virus recover within two weeks and only get viral meningitis once, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why Elianna has gotten it six times now remains a mystery, Neumann said.
Neumann said her daughter has seen multiple experts and recently had a $25,000 genetic test, but so far nothing shows why she is so susceptible.
“It was a complete waste, but what would you do? Most parents would do the same thing.”
Elianna is recuperating at home under her mother’s care, but Neumann said her daughter’s recovery has been slower than in the past.
Neumann is at home full-time to care for Elianna and her four other children, including a 6-month-old. She said Elianna’s recovery has been slower than in the past but that she feels better sooner when at home.
“It’s scary that she’s not recovering as quickly, but I’m confident it’s just one of those things. Every time is different, but I’m confident she’ll bounce back.”
The next couple months will be busy for the teenager, with physical therapy and pain management appointments at Doernbecher in Portland and visits to a doctor in Longview. Neumann said she is used to the travelling and is okay with it because she wants her daughter to be happy and healthy.
“We’ll deal with it like we always do,” Neumann said. “We’re a much stronger family because of it.”
Once Elianna recovers, she’ll be back to attending school, church and practicing driving. Although she had to retake the fifth grade after missing so much school battling the first two infections, Elianna is now doing “very well” in her first year of high school, Neumann said. She is working hard to one day become a pediatric nurse because she knows what it’s like to be a sick child, she said.
Elianna doesn’t let the infections or side effects hold her back.
“We’re not going to let this every year define us as a family or define her as a person.”