A Turn of Fate (Erin Brady Worsham: ALS)

Article Highlights:
  • Erin Brady Worsham, of Nashville, Tenn., was determined to go through with her pregnancy, even though she was also in the beginning stages of ALS. 
  • Her son, Daniel, was born in 1995.
by Miriam Davidson on June 30, 2010 - 5:36pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 3

Erin Brady Worsham, 51
Nashville, Tenn.
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Erin Brady Worsham tried to get pregnant for six years, with no luck. She had accepted that she was never going to be a mother. Then, in a turn of fate worthy of a novel, she got pregnant the day after she received a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Erin Brady Worsham and son, Daniel
Erin Worsham’s son Daniel was born in June 1995, nine months after she received an ALS diagnosis

Worsham was 36 at the time. She had been having trouble with foot drop (an inability to lift the front of the foot) and weakness in her lower legs, so she went to a neurologist who did a series of tests. On Sept. 7, 1994, Worsham and her husband met with the doctor for the verdict.

“His nurse put her arm around my shoulders and walked me to his office,” Worsham recalls. “I knew I was in big trouble.”

When she learned of her pregnancy, Worsham was delighted. Her neurologist, however, was not, commenting, “Don’t you know you could be gone in a year?” Worsham went in search of a doctor who would be more supportive, and found Nashville obstetrician John Vanhooydonk.

“I remember Dr. Van saying, ‘It doesn't matter if you live five days, five months or five years, you're going to be happy you had this child.’”

Worsham felt great throughout her pregnancy: “Food tasted incredible. I was not alone. My thoughts were of life, not death.”

But ALS began to take its toll. Worsham’s leg strength and balance were compromised, and worsened as the baby got heavier. She began wearing shoes to support her ankles and had braces made, which she still wears, to address her foot drop. She started walking with a cane.

She also had two or three instances of choking. “The first time it happened was very scary, because it was so unexpected,” she says. “Instead of being able to just clear my throat, my throat completely closed up and I couldn't breathe in or out at all. At first I panicked, but then, instinctively, I forced myself to relax and my throat relaxed too. From then on, I was very conscious of my chewing and swallowing.”

For the birth, Worsham arranged for an anesthesiologist to give her an epidural, but she didn’t need it. She described the natural childbirth of her son Daniel as follows:

“Dr. Van saw on the ultrasound that Daniel was turned face up. He warned us that I would be facing a C-section [Caeasarean delivery] if the baby didn't turn. My nurse friend and [my husband] Curry turned me as far as they could on my stomach. They gave me a "whiff" of stadol [a narcotic painkiller]. It didn't take away the pain, but it allowed me to rest between contractions. A doctor friend of ours dropped by to see how I was doing. She made the mistake of holding my hand. I never let her go.

“Dr. Van returned when I was fully dilated. [The cervix, or entrance to the uterus, must be fully dilated before the baby can pass through.] The ultrasound confirmed Daniel had indeed turned. Dr. Van commented that there was ‘a lot of power’ in the room. With my nurse friend pushing on one leg and Curry pushing on the other and my doctor friend pushing on my back, we brought Daniel home.”

Now 51, Worsham has outlived all the doctors’ predictions, and Daniel, at 15, is a strapping young man. Worsham advises women with ALS who want children, “Don't wait! The earlier in the disease, the better.”

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