Polio-like illness leaves kids struggling for years. Some never recover.


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Carter Roberts was so excited when his new, toe-controlled motorized wheelchair was finally delivered Sept. 22.

The 5-year-old was sure he’d be the envy of his kindergarten classmates as he zoomed around in the custom-built wheelchair.

Carter had been paralyzed from the nose down since 2016, the victim of a rare and puzzling polio-like condition called acute flaccid myelitis.

The wheelchair was going to offer Carter his first taste of autonomy in two years.

“He had been in kindergarten for two weeks and he was loving it,” said his mother, Robin Roberts. “He was in love with a little girl in a rainbow dress and looking forward to driving around.”

Carter Roberts
Carter tries out his new powerchair on Sept. 22.Carter’s Coalition

But just hours after his new wheelchair was delivered, Carter died.

It was just as sudden and unexpected as the day in July of 2016 when, at age 3, the toddler developed AFM, Roberts said. “It was a totally normal day,” Roberts, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, told NBC News this week. “If you had told me it was going to happen, I would have laughed in your face.”

Carter became paralyzed during the second big wave of AFM cases in 2016. The highly unusual neurological condition first caught the country’s attention in 2014, when 120 children were diagnosed with various degrees of muscle weakness and paralysis.

Initially, the wave of AFM cases was linked with a virus that was also circulating, a distant relative of the polio virus called EV-D68. It usually causes mild symptoms typical of viral infections, but for reasons that remain a mystery, EV-D68 can attack the nervous system, causing dizziness, weakness and even paralysis.

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