In April 2002, my eyes started to do tricks, as I called it when I was only 3 years old. What I didn’t know then was that this would start me on a journey that would be the best and worst adventure of my life. Here is the story of me, Christopher Armstrong, 12 ½ year old scientific wonder.
Like most April days in 2002, I was dropped off at preschool while my mother worked and continued her education. What we didn’t know on that April day was that we were about to embark on a lifelong educational journey into the neurological world of my brain. It all started when my vision went blurry and then fuzzy. I didn’t understand what was happening. All I remember is that my teacher said, “Your mom is coming quickly.” Then next thing I knew is that I was at the doctor’s office. Then I went to this other doctor’s office. Then back to the first doctor. And then I finally ended up at this really cool office with pictures of Nemo on the wall. Next came in this lady that looked just like the adult version of my best friend. What I didn’t know then is that Dr. Emily would become my dear friend. She introduced me to her boss, Dr. Oscar Cruz. Dr. Cruz was funny. He made me laugh. He checked out my eyes and made sure I wasn’t scared. This wasn’t any ordinary doctors’ office. This was the start of my life with Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, which went through a name change during my many years with them to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.
What I learned that day in April is that my eyes were so unequally dilated that one eye was completely contracted to where one could not see the black center, and the other eye was completely dilated that one could not see (as mom says) my beautiful blue eye. As mom says, “From a scientific standpoint, it was quite the wonder, from a mother’s point of view terrifying.” At first the attention from all the doctors was kind of fun. They kept coming in and looking and learning. After a trip to Dr. Cruz’s office, I would have to wear glasses and go visit another doctor, Dr. Sophia Chung. Dr. Chung was in a stuffy adult office, but Dr. Chung was nice. I could tell she really took an interest in my condition. What I didn’t know is that she would introduce me to a man that would later be the main man in my care team.
One morning in October 2002, I lost the ability to move. My legs wouldn’t work. I couldn’t get out of bed. I began to cry. I knew whatever this was, it wasn’t good. I knew I would miss my soccer game, gymnastics, swimming lessons, baseball and all the fun I had playing with my dog outside. Mom rushed me back to Cardinal Glennon. I would meet again Dr. Thomas Geller. All I remembered about him from months earlier is that he studied the brain. I went through so many MRIs, EEGs, EMGs, spinal taps, blood work, CT scans and a very long stay in the hospital. Dr. Geller would bring to my team, Dr. Ghazala Hayat. By the end of 2003, my team of doctors diagnosed me with CIDP, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy with Encephalitis. Other illnesses and diseases would manifest over the years due to my primary illness of CIDP. What I remember most about being at Glennon back then is the red tunnel I had to go through from the parking garage to the hospital. My grandpa explained that the hospital was doing construction and that is why we had to enter the hospital that way. All I know is that the tunnel was pretty cool.
Over the next nine years, I would go from walking to needing assistance to walking to a wheelchair. I would go from 20/20 vision to glasses to 20/20 to nearly blind to 20/20. I would join a care program called Footprints to help manage my life. I would also change pediatricians, so my care plan would better fit me. I can’t tell anyone how much better my care plan is with Dr. Ken Haller on board.
Life has never been the same. I would have to find new ways to enjoy life. One way I enjoy life is by going and speaking in front of different groups of people to bring awareness to my hospital and the research my team of doctors are doing on behalf of children like me. SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center is not only the place that gives me the medical treatment I need, but they have also become a part of my family. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for their amazing love and dedication to my care and well-being. I could never thank them enough for what they have done for me and my family. I am truly a walking testimony to their mission statement: Through our exceptional health care, we show the healing presence of God.
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