The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 31, 2013

'TRUE MIRACLE:' Cedar Hill student fights FIRES

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

ARDMORE — In a household filled with the rambunctious activity of his three siblings and a visiting pal, 8-year-old Robert Witherow paused from playing with his new Star Wars light saber to sing a few bars of his favorite songs while wearing a red nose and reindeer antlers given to him by his homebound teacher.

The gleeful scene on Monday afternoon was only a few days removed from the family’s first Christmas celebration in two years, and contrasted sharply with Dec. 18, 2012.

This was the day Robert collapsed with a seizure and spent 50 days in the hospital with a rare condition diagnosed as FIRES, or febrile, infection-related epilepsy syndrome.

Robert, a youth baseball player and an honor student at Cedar Hill Elementary School, returned home in February and was unable to speak or walk after spending much of his hospital stay stricken with seizures and being placed in a medically-induced coma.

The third child of Stacy and Theresia Witherow still has low vision and limited mobility, but he is no longer confined to a wheelchair. His verbal communication skills are slowly improving with the help of daily therapy and his love for music, according to his mother.

“We weren’t sure he would ever speak or walk or do any of those things again, but he is and it is so wonderful,” Theresia said. “When we see any of his hospital nurses, they’re amazed at his progress.”

Theresia grew up with a sister with a debilitating medical condition but said Robert’s condition was the first major medical crisis for her children. She and Stacy also have a 5-year-old daughter, Cassidy, and sons John, 12, and Will, 10.

She said Robert could return to Cedar Hill this spring if his mobility improves and the peak flu season passes.

“We are excited because, hopefully, in January we’ll be able to have a mobility specialist to help him get around and help us learn how to help him,” she said. “He is a true miracle, and he is amazing. He started walking even though he can’t see, and he tries to get around.”

Ups and downs

With four children, one of the biggest challenges for Theresia and Robert is finding a balance between assisting Robert, who had his breathing tube removed in October but still has a feeding tube, and spending enough time with his siblings.

“Robby has essentially had to re-learn everything, and this is taking a great deal of time,” Stacy said. “The primary sacrifice has been our other children because we haven’t been able to spend enough time with them. They understand, but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.”

Theresia said finalizing the treatment and specialists needed for Robert also posed an unexpected challenge.

“I’m still not very good with medical terms, but it’s very interesting how much you have to learn and find out,” she said. “The process involves a lot of paperwork and approvals, and I didn’t realized that with every step you have to have a meeting.”

She said the family is grateful for its blessings, including a community fund started by friends at First National Bank in Athens and Ardmore, a specially-equipped van, home-cooked meals, gas money for the dozens of medical appointments each month and moral support.

Theresia said the family empathizes with other families experiencing medical hardships and they count their blessings.

“Love comes to mind when thinking about everything that has happened — for the family and the love of God,” she said. “I’ve watched how my children have changed, the love they’ve shown and the love from the community.”

To view previous articles about Robert, visit http://www.enewscourier.com/x503809946/Student-spends-holiday-break-in-hospital and http://www.enewscourier.com/local/x1303545158/Cedar-Hill-student-released-after-50-day-hospital-stay.