The Right Decision

By Greg Raver-Lampman

Mya Williams
Dr. Northam says Mya owes her life to her mother’s decision to follow her instincts.

LaVista Williams knew her 5-month-old daughter, Mya, desperately needed medical care. Never mind that an emergency room doctor said it was safe to take her home. As Mya grew worse, her limbs rag-doll floppy, her faint cry fading to nothing, LaVista made a different decision.

She drove to CHKD.

“It was good that she trusted her sixth sense,” says Dr. Ralph Northam, the pediatric neurologist who diagnosed Mya with a rare and potentially fatal infection. “Her daughter could have died otherwise.”

At CHKD, the triage nurse rushed Mya to an exam room before LaVista had even filled out the paperwork. Emergency specialists determined that something was attacking Mya’s nerves and summoned Dr. Northam.

Her symptoms led him to diagnose infant botulism, which strikes only about 80 children each year in the U.S. Those rushed to a pediatric specialist like Dr. Northam, who is familiar with the symptoms, almost always survive.

In CHKD’s pediatric intensive care unit, Dr. Tom Cholis warned LaVista that her daughter would probably get worse before she got better. Just hours later, the botulism toxin paralyzed Mya’s diaphragm and other muscles required to breathe.

Mya Williams

LaVista broke down when she saw her daughter in bed, paralyzed and hooked up to a ventilator. “That was overwhelming, to see my baby with a tube down her throat.”

Recovery time is unpredictable. “The doctors said it could take from three to 16 weeks,” LaVista recalls.

After just three days, however, Mya did something astonishing. “She moved her shoulder,” LaVista says, demonstrating with a tiny shrug. Soon nurses noticed Mya attempting to breathe on her own. Just four days after being admitted, she was weaned from the ventilator.

“We were ecstatic,” Dr. Cholis says. “Mya was definitely a fighter.”

After 19 days at CHKD, 16 of them in the PICU, Mya went home. Weeks of physical therapy at CHKD’s Oyster Point Health and Surgery Center helped her overcome the nerve damage.

Today, Mya is back to normal, climbing, standing and constantly smiling. Dr. Northam says she owes her life to her mother’s decision to follow her instincts.

“Moms know their children,” Dr. Northam says. “I always say, if you listen to the mother, she’ll point you in the right direction 99 percent of the time.”

Dr. Northam and Dr. Cholis practice with Children’s Specialty Group, PLLC, at CHKD.

This story was featured in the Fall 2011 issue of KidStuff, a publication of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters. Click to read more patients' stories.