Christopher Bunch battled for his life for more than a week, after a headache turned out to be something much worse. But sadly, he could not hold off the rare disease. 14-year-old Christopher passed away Tuesday, August 14.
His father shared the news on Facebook, writing: “We are so upset to say this, but our gorgeous son Christopher Bunch has gone to be with God. 1:02pm. Please Lord look over my son and take good care of him. My son I love you so much and I will always and forever love you and keep you in my heart.”
His mother also wrote on Facebook, “RIP my baby.”
The teenager from Moline, Illinois was diagnosed with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, a rare disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. It began with a headache on August 6 before football practice, about a week before Christopher was supposed to begin his freshman year of high school.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Christopher Bunch’s Initial Symptoms Included Severe Headaches, Vomiting and Fatigue
Christopher’s father, Elijah, detailed his son’s downward spiral on Facebook. Christopher first began suffering from a headache on Monday, August 6 before going to football practice. He went to practice anyway and tried to play. But the pain persisted, so the coach had him sit on the sidelines.
Christopher fell asleep that night around 7 p.m. and did not get up until 2:30 p.m. the next day. He tried to participate in football practice Tuesday afternoon, but again had to stop because he began vomiting.
That night, Christopher’s father says he again fell asleep early in the evening. This time, Christopher stayed asleep more than 24 hours, not awaking until 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 8. His parents became concerned that something was truly wrong, and took the teenager to the emergency room.
2. Christopher Bunch Stopped Breathing on His Own Hours After He Was Rushed to the Hospital
At the emergency room, doctors conducted several tests on Christopher to figure out what was wrong. Medical professionals made the decision that the teenager should be taken to Iowa City Children’s Hospital.
It was at the hospital where the family learned the diagnosis: acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. The rare disease was putting intense pressure on his brain and spinal cord.
Within hours of arriving at the hospital, Christopher deteriorated rapidly. He stopped breathing on his own. Elijah said the disease paralyzed the left side of his son’s body, and that he was also put on anti-seizure medication. On August 11, Elijah shared that Christopher was on life support.
3. Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis Typically Occurs Following a Bacterial Infection and is More Common in Children Than Adults
Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, also known as ADEM, typically develops following some kind of bacterial infection such as a sore throat. The disease usually materializes 7-14 days after the infection.
The National Institutes of Health explains that the disease causes inflammation of the central nervous system. Instead of fighting the infection, the body’s immune system attacks itself. This activity can damage brain tissue, leading to vision loss, weakness to the point of paralysis and difficulty with coordinating muscle movements.
Symptoms of ADEM include:
• Confusion, drowsiness, and coma
• Unsteadiness and falling
• Visual blurring or double vision (occasionally)
• Trouble swallowing
• Weakness of the arms or legs
The National Institutes of Health states that a majority of patients with ADEM experience full recoveries. It’s rare for a case to be severe enough to cause death. The doctors in Iowa City say Christopher Bunch’s case is the most severe one they have ever seen.
An earlier version of this article included information taken from the Cleveland Clinic’s Health Library about ADEM. The Health Library’s information page previously included a statement that on rare occassions, ADEM can occur after vaccinations, including for measles, mumps and rubella. That line has been removed from this report after the Cleveland Clinc updated its article.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a doctor reviewing the Health Library article in January 2019 had the section on ADEM and vaccinations removed because there is no evidence that ADEM can occur, even on rare occasions, after vaccination. According to the Cleveland Clinic, its doctors said that updated research shows there is no connection between ADEM and vaccinations.
4. Christopher Bunch Was an Aspiring YouTube Star and Had Already Attracted a Few Hundred Fans to His Page
Christopher had more than 300 followers to his YouTube channel. He had twenty original videos on his page. The description read, “Just a kid from a small town trying to make it big.”
More recent videos streamed his experiences playing the popular game Fortnite. But the majority of Christopher’s videos were video blogs of him talking about his daily experiences and family. In the video above, he shows off a new electric bike and his attempts to perform tricks on it. The video also Christopher and his sister playing around in the backyard with their dogs.
The video below, shared in February, also showcased his younger brother and sister.
5. Christopher’s Parents Set up a Donation Page on Facebook to Help Cover Medical Expenses
Christopher’s father, Elijah, started a donation page on Facebook after his son was hospitalized. He says neither he nor his wife were working in order to stay by their son’s side.
Elijah wrote on the page that it was difficult for him to ask friends and family for help. But he admitted they need it in order to “offset some of the expenses of not working to be with our son in this very stressful time.” Elijah thanked well-wishers for their thoughts and prayers.
Within five days, more than 300 people had donated to the page. Friends have raised nearly $12,000 for the Bunch family.