It was at 3:15 p.m. on Dec. 21 when Gracie Fisher first noticed the numbness in her hands, as well as a pain in her neck.

The numbness soon spread to her feet.

Gracie’s mother, Debbie, thought it would pass, but her daughter asked to go to the hospital, and by the time the two arrived at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s emergency room, the numbness had already spread to her waist. 

Hospital staff had to put the 17-year-old Santa Barbara High Student into a wheelchair when she arrived because she could no longer move.

“The first day was filled adrenaline and energy, and that was necessary as it was a such a rapid decline,” Debbie Fisher recounted.

 By 10 that night, less than seven hours after first showing symptoms, Gracie was intubated because she was having trouble breathing, and most of her body was paralyzed.

Since that time — it’s been almost five weeks since Fisher was first hospitalized — doctors have diagnosed the teen with acute flaccid myelitis, and an outbreak of the condition has affected a significant number of children in recent months.

Since August 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has verified reports of 107 children in 34 states with the condition. The organization is continuing to investigate the cases, and a possible cause, which is unknown at this time.

The Fisher family is finding strength together as they try to help 17-year-old Gracie Fisher overcome acute flaccid myelitis, which has left her paralyzed. (Contributed photo)

The cases recorded indicate that the children developed a sudden onset of weakness of limbs and were hospitalized, with some put on breathing machines. MRI scans of those children showed an inflammation of the nerve cells in the spinal cord, according to the CDC.

Though Grace is no longer intubated, she has a tracheotomy to help her breathe with a ventilator, and has been awake and responsive, though unable to speak.

Fisher, who spoke to Noozhawk from her daughter’s hospital room this week, said it’s been a difficult time for the family.

“I have to keep myself in a constant state of prayerfulness and mindfulness,” she said.

Fisher and her husband, Bill, are both physical therapists and own Via Real Physical Therapy in Carpinteria.

Fisher said she’s had to use all the techniques she knows to keep calm physically and emotionally throughout her daughter’s ordeal. 

The family is planning to seek treatment next week in Colorado, with Gracie being transported to Craig Hospital in Denver, which specializes in brain and spinal cord injuries.

“We really believe it’s the right place for Gracie to start her rehabilitation,” Debbie said.

The family will leave as early as Monday, when Debbie and Gracie will travel via air ambulance to the hospital and Bill and Gracie’s younger sister, Emily, will follow shortly after.

Debbie said that when they gave Emily the choice to stay with her grandparents in Santa Barbara while Gracie was moved to Colorado for treatment, the 14-year-old was adamant about staying with her sister.

“We are stronger as a family of four,” Debbie said, adding that Emily, a freshman as Santa Barbara High, has continued going to school during her sister’s hospitalization, but that it’s been hard for her to focus.

Still, “she definitely feels the support of the community,” Debbie said.

The family knew Gracie’s rehabilitation would have to take place outside of the area, but expressed that it would be hard to leave family and friends who have supported them since finding out about her condition.

“I know your prayers will continue to support us, and I look forward to continuing to share Gracie’s progress,” Debbie wrote on the website that she’s been using to update the community, along with family and friends.

It’s unclear, however, whether the family will be able to move to the hospital and still be covered by their insurance.

A post on Fisher’s website Friday stated that the family had been denied coverage at Craig Hospital, even though the family has a Blue Shield PPO insurance plan and the hospital is a Blue Shield Provider. 

Clinton McGue, spokesman for Blue Shield, said that a decision on the case may come Monday.

“Blue Shield PPO members are able to receive out-of-state care through our Blue Card program,” McGue wrote in a statement to Noozhawk Friday. 

“We can’t discuss this specific case because of HIPAA rules, but we are aware that our clinical team is still reviewing the case and working with the family.”

To benefit the Fisher Family, a luncheon will be held on Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara.

The first seating at 11:30 am is already full, Fisher said, but tickets are still available for the 12:30 p.m, and 1:30 p.m. seatings. Ticket prices are $25 for adults and $10 for children 10 and younger.

Lunch will be donated by Via Maestra 42 and tickets can be purchased by calling the church 805.963.3579 or via email at

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.