Never Lose Hope: George Breighner's Story

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More Information on ADEM

  • What causes ADEM?
    • The cause of ADEM is not clear but in more than half of the cases, symptoms appear following a viral or bacterial infection, usually a sore throat or cough and very rarely following vaccination.
    • ADEM is thought to be an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies its own healthy cells and tissues as foreign and mounts an attack against them. 
  • Who gets ADEM, and when?
    • Although ADEM can appear at any age, children are more likely than adults to develop it.
    • More than 80 percent of childhood cases occur in patients younger than 10 years.
    • ADEM is thought to affect 1 in every 125,000 to 250,000 individuals in a given year.
  • How is ADEM different from MS?
    • In most but not all cases, ADEM occurs only once, while patients with MS have further, repeated attacks of inflammation in their brains and spinal cords.
    • Typical symptoms of ADEM such as fever, headache and confusion, vomiting, and seizures are not usually seen in people with MS, although they can be seen in pediatric MS onset especially in patients younger than 11 years.
    • Most patients with MS are treated with ongoing medication to prevent attacks. Patients with ADEM do not require such medication.
    • ADEM is more common in children; MS is more common in adults.

QUICKSBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- Sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn a lesson, but for 13- year old George Breighner III, it came much sooner.

In March, he was diagnosed with a rare disease which took his ability to walk. In May, he returned to school and his experience is teaching others to never lose hope.

"It's like Christmas morning," said Darren Williams, who described what it was like to have his best friend back to school.

But before this, it was a journey of the unknown for his best friend, George.

"When he came home he wasn't really looking like himself," said Robin Breighner, George's mom.

"He was unresponsive and wouldn't talk to anybody," said George Breighner Junior, George's father, "Not knowing who you are."

Doctors raced against the clock to find an answer. They had to preform a spinal tap, days of testing in the ICU and then a diagnosis.

"This is what we think it is, but we got eight to 10 doctors trying to figure it out," said Robin.

George III is battling Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as ADEM, a quickly advancing disease where the immune system reacts against the brain and spinal cord.

"I remember going to bed and then waking up in the hospital," said the younger Breighner.

Little did he know, in just a matter of six weeks he would go from walking into school on two legs, to now being on two wheels.

Before his homecoming, he spent hours in rehab at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. He is ready to beat the odds and he won't be alone with people like his principal at his side.

"Once I had shared information with my staff of what I had received on George, having been at U.Va. hospital my staff and faculty knew they needed to help or they wanted to help including the students. Friday, teachers stayed on a Friday to come up with things they wanted to do," said North Fork Middle School Principal Shelby Kline.

Some of those things included selling bracelets, like the one shown above, and hosting fundraising dinner.

Through it all, George III remains hopeful that he will one day walk again.

"At U.Va. he told me, 'I will walk Ms. Kline, those doctors they are wrong,'" said Kline.

Perseverance and George's personality are serving as a good reminder to never lose hope.

When asked what the one thing that helped him get through this whole process, the elder Breighner answered, "George, aggravating me and picking on me, it's keeping me going."

Besides playing the cello and walking, one other thing George wants to do is aggravating his brothers. In a similar vein, he joked that he is most looking forward to aggravating teachers now the he's returned to school.

The community, his family, and his school, are helping him overcome this unexpected journey.

"I am sure that his attitude will determine his altitude and he will be walking soon," said Kline.

For Darren, George's return will always be a joyous moment, just like Christmas morning.

"If he needs absolutely anything, I am here for him," said Darren. is happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules:

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