August 16, 2018 12:37 pm
Updated: August 17, 2018 12:17 pm

Boy, 14, dies of rare neurological disease after complaining of a headache

ABOVE: Teammates speak out after 14-year-old dies during football practice of rare condition.


Headaches are a relatively normal occurrence of varying degrees of severity, but for most people, they can be managed with a simple painkiller. For one teen in Iowa, however, a seemingly standard headache was actually an indication of a dangerous underlying neurological disease.

WATCH BELOW: When a headache is more than just a headache

Christopher Bunch, 14, had just finished football practice on Aug. 6 when he told his mother that he had been experiencing a headache.

“If anything, I was thinking he’s probably just really dehydrated,” his mother, Destiny Maynard, said to WQAD.

But when the teen spent most of the following 48 hours sleeping, his parents knew something was amiss.

“His progression went from zero to 100 in a matter of four hours,” his father, Elijah Mendoza, said.

Christopher Bunch and his father Elijah Mendoza.


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The young football star was quickly admitted to the intensive care unit at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital where he soon developed paralysis on the left side of his body and stopped breathing on his own. He was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare neurological disease that can occur after a bacterial infection.

The young teen died a week later on Aug. 14.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ADEM is a widespread attack of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. It damages myelin, the protective covering of nerve fibres that make up part of the central nervous system, which is responsible for carrying messages between your brain and the rest of your body.

ADEM is more likely to affect children rather than adults and often follows a bacterial or viral infection. In rare cases, it can also occur after vaccination for measles, mumps, or rubella. In other cases, however, ADEM can set in without any triggers. Maynard said that her son had both recently had an infection and received vaccinations.

READ MORE: How to prevent a migraine from setting in

Symptoms of the disease appear rapidly and include fever, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting, and in the most severe cases, seizures and coma. In very rare cases, it can lead to death.

When Bunch was admitted to the hospital, the doctors told his parents that they see roughly six cases of ADEM per year. His was the worst case they had ever seen.

As his family and friends grapple with the teen’s untimely death, his father has taken to social media to post testimonies about his son and to reminisce on the teen’s hopes for YouTube stardom.

“Well, my son … your dream is coming true buddy,” he wrote on Facebook. “You now have over 3,000 views on your vlog on YouTube. This is only the beginning, my boy. Just make sure that in heaven you are vlogging like crazy. Dad loves you Always and forever my blonde hair blue eyed boy.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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