How a headache left a dad, 37, paralysed from the neck down

Brianne Tolj
·3-min read

A dad-of-three has vowed to walk again after a headache left him fighting for his life and now a paraplegic.

Sam Jenkinson, 37, was spending time with his wife Claire and children, aged eight, six and seven-months-old, in their Melbourne Covid-19 lockdown bubble in September when he awoke on the 13th with an awful headache.

Claire told Yahoo News Australia on Friday that she had told her husband to stay in bed and rest but that the pain only got worse by the end of the day.

“I took him to the hospital that Sunday and by the following Monday he was on a ventilator on life support,” she said.

Because of Coronavirus, the mum-of-three was only able to drop him off at the hospital door and speak to him by phone over the following week.

Sam Jenkinson, 37, his wife Claire and two of their children.
Sam Jenkinson, 37, was spending time with his wife Claire and children in their Melbourne home when he awoke one day in September with an awful headache. Source: Supplied

When his conditioned worsened, and doctors were still confused as to why, Claire said they called her in and intubated Sam and placed him on life support.

The 37-year-old, paralysed from the neck down, remained in a coma for a month.

It was then doctors discovered he had fallen ill with a very rare autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis optica (NMO), leading his body to attack its own central nervous system, primarily affecting the nerves in the eyes and spinal cord.

The cause of NMO is usually unknown, but it may sometimes appear after an infection, or it could be associated with another autoimmune condition, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It is often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis (MS) or perceived as a type of MS.

Sam in a special wheelchair in hospital.
The 37-year-old, paralysed from the neck down, remained in a coma for a month. Source: Supplied

Sam’s case has been deemed one of the most severe seen in Australia and he now has lesions in his brain, brainstem and spinal cord, Claire said, who hopes his case brings awareness to NMO.

The dad-of-three has undergone numerous plasma exchanges, which helped filter his blood. He has and will continue to undergo autoimmune therapy every six months in an effort to prevent other attacks.

After coming out of a coma, Sam remained in and out of consciousness for a couple of weeks but is now doing better and able to speak again.

Claire said because there is little known about the disease, it has been hard to learn about it and what it means in terms of Sam’s recovery.

He has begun physiotherapy on his upper body with the long-term and main goal of being able to walk and play with his kids once again.

Sam with his wife, daughter, son and newborn.
He has begun physiotherapy on his upper body with the long-term and main goal is to be able to walk and play with his kids once again. Source: Supplied

“He is quite scared about the future but is very determined and positive in doing everything we can do to get him better,” Claire said.

Friends and family have created a GoFundMe to help raise funds for the Sam’s family, medical bills, treatment, physiotherapy, his wheelchair and adjustments to their home so it is accessible.

“The cost of medical bills for his young family have already been overwhelming,” the fundraiser reads.

“We are raising funds for Sam and his family to make their future a little less daunting.”

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