Family questions impact COVID-19 may have on spinal cord after rare diagnosis

Family questions impact COVID-19 may have on spinal cord after rare diagnosis

NEWBURY, Mass. — In mid-March, Jimmy Soffron lost feeling in his lower body after suffering severe back pain.

He spent 12 days in the hospital and two months in rehab.

“Within two hours I was completely not even able to walk,” said Soffron, who relies on a wheelchair right now. “I have numbness from the chest down, so I have to learn everything over again and I’m still – right now in the process of getting from a chair to a walker.”

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At first, doctors told him this could be a result of COVID-19, but now they’re not so sure.

“I did have an infection in my spinal cord and it was undetermined how it got there,” said Soffron. “They checked me for Lyme, they checked me for everything.”

“It was the scariest thing ever, I was in the fetal position crying, worried,” said Chad Gorham, Jimmy’s husband.

Gorham believes the coronavirus may be to blame.

He says he was severely sick for a few days a couple of weeks before his husband went to the hospital, but he was never tested for COVID-19. This all happened early on in the pandemic before testing was easily available.

Now, after seeing a story Saturday on Boston 25 News on a young nurse who was also diagnosed with transverse myelitis after recovering from COVID19, Gorham wonders if his husband has a similar case.

“It was so close, just so, so close,” said Gorham.

We asked Harvard Professor of Medicine Dr. C. Michael Gibson about that case, where paralysis developed several weeks after the person recovered from COVID-19.

“In this case where you have the development of these symptoms very, very late, it’s probably not the virus itself but its antibodies that formed against the virus that also are directed against those nerves,” said Dr. Gibson, who is also a doctor at Beth Israel Hospital.

Dr. Gibson says there is some evidence that COVID-19 has infected the nerves around the spinal cord in some people, but it’s still unclear if the damage is from the virus itself or the antibodies it creates.

“It’s not entirely clear that the virus is getting inside the nerves,” said Dr. Gibson. “It looks like the virus is sitting by the nerve or attaching to it and the inflammatory cells attack.”

Whether COVID-19 triggered Soffron’s spinal infection or not, he hopes more research is done on the effects of this novel virus, while he tries to learn how to walk again one day.

“I think the light at the end of the tunnel is how much progress I’m making myself is my own inspiration you know,” said Soffron.

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