When anyone in Alisha Robert’s family has a searing headache, they don’t just take aspirin.
They check for meningitis. And often find it.
"We almost never see meningitis anymore," said John Chiles, a pediatrician from Chandler. "This is a very unusual case, one of these rare family conditions that at least at the present time they have no explanation for."
The family on Jan. 13 relived the trauma of meningitis, the inflammation of the three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The condition can cause permanent damage to the brain and spinal cord.
Nathan Roberts, 8, woke up around 3 a.m. to hear his mother, Alisha Roberts, 32, stumble around their Queen Creek home in a trance, mumbling incoherently and throwing dishes as his baby brother screamed from his crib.
"I thought everything was going bizarre," Nathan said. "I was scared. My muscles were all tight. She was just knocking into everything. I heard a bunch of sounds — Pow, pow."
His mother was having the third bacterial meningitis attack in her life, one of three family members stricken by the unusual, non-genetic illness, including Nathan, who’s also suffered three similar attacks.
Grasping his hands tightly, he paced in his room before walking over honey and cracked dishes to pull his resisting mother back to her bedroom.
He called his nearby grandparents who came to the house and then called paramedics to take her to the hospital where she would remain unconscious for four days.
The family was experienced in meningitis symptoms.
Nathan’s grandfather, Haskell McLendon, 59, came down with the family’s first recorded case when he was 34.
Chiles, Nathan’s pediatrician, can’t explain the recurrence of the unusual illness in the family.
One theory is the possible presence of a microscopic crack in the membranes near the middle ear that allows bacteria in during times of stress, earache or sinus headache, he said.
He said Nathan’s actions could very well have saved his mother’s life, or at least prevented serious effects of the infection, including blindness. "Untreated, the most common complication is death," he said.
Alisha said she considers Nathan her hero.