The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 10, 2013

Cedar Hill student released after 50-day hospital stay

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— For 50 days, a hospital room was the temporary residence for an Ardmore family as 7-year-old Robert Witherow battled recurring seizures and his physicians sought to solve his mysterious condition.

Witherow, a Cedar Hill Elementary second-grader, was admitted on Dec. 18 into the pediatric intensive care unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children after his younger sister alerted their mother that he was on the floor while having a seizure at their northern Limestone County residence.

Robby, as his father Stacey affectionately calls him, was released from the hospital on Feb. 6, after Dr. Sarah Norris diagnosed him with an extremely rare condition known as FIRES, or febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome. Norris is a pediatric critical specialist who is among three physicians assigned to the PICU.

Medical mystery

Stacey said his son was born with a heart condition known as mild pulmonary stenosis but hasn’t had any complications since he underwent a corrective procedure. Robert did not have a prior history of seizures or epilepsy, and he was active in basketball, baseball and martial arts.

“FIRES is a rare condition, a rare syndrome. There are a few studies on it but they don’t really know what causes it,” said Stacey’s wife, Theresia Witherow, a stay-at-home mother who spent most of the past several weeks on the fourth floor of HHWC with her husband. “There are some children who have made recoveries with different stages of recovery, ranging from mild, moderate or severe learning disabilities to being in a vegetative state.”

Theresia and Stacey considered transferring their son to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham but they thought Robert’s medical team at HHWC was doing everything possible to treat him.

She said Norris made the diagnosis after conducting extensive online research and reaching out to medical colleagues nationwide, and pediatric neurologist Dr. Kimberly Limbo contacted Children’s and hospitals in Memphis and Boston