Cedar Rapids, IA

Sometimes, a mother just knows.

Shortly after Laila Walton was born, she began experiencing a number of medical issues, and was even unable to walk at times. By age 2, she was was diagnosed with cyclic vomiting syndrome, which is characterized by episodes of severe vomiting with no apparent cause. 

But Laila’s parents, Rod and Christine, didn’t feel this was the correct diagnosis for their daughter.

“I had that gut feeling that a mom has where something’s just not right,” says Christine.

For three years, doctors tried different medications to control Laila’s symptoms without success.

“When Laila started having issues, and we yet again weren't getting the answers and results she needed in Cedar Rapids, we decided to bring her to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital,” recalls Christine.

The Waltons met with a pediatric nephrologist who told them he'd think “outside the box” for Laila.

“He never promised us he would find a cure or fix the situation, but he did promise that he would help us any way he could,” remembers Christine.

While watching Laila deal with sickness and pain over the years, Christine recognized some similarities between herself and her daughter.

“I suffer from low potassium, and she was exhibiting some of the same behaviors I had as a child,” she says.

Laila began undergoing weekly blood tests to monitor her body’s potassium levels—particularly when she had her episodes.

In December 2014, genetic testing revealed that Laila had a variant of the gene associated with hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a rare genetic disorder, which may be responsible for her symptoms. Hypokalemic periodic paralysis is a condition that causes episodes of extreme muscle weakness, typically beginning in childhood or adolescence. Most often, these episodes involve a temporary inability to move muscles in the arms and legs.

“This was huge for Laila because it gave validity to her situation,” says Christine. “And it gave validity to me, because for five years I felt as though I was going crazy.”

In patients with this condition, the potassium and sodium in their bodies are at odds. This can cause a chemical imbalance, which often results in extreme muscle weakness.

“When Laila has her episodes, it’s important that the potassium is replaced (in the body) as quickly as possible,” says Christine. “When you’re low on potassium, that affects your lungs. These types of situations can be life-threatening.”

The onsets of Laila’s episodes can still be unpredictable. While it has been a long road for the young softball player, Laila’s bravery and toughness have inspired those around her, including her older sisters, Hanna and Emily, and her older brother, Avery.

“She’s had to put up with an awful lot,” says Christine. “But she’s never said, ‘Why me?’ She just deals with it.”

The Waltons are thankful for Laila’s dedicated UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital care team and the impact they’ve made.

“Our hopes and dreams for Laila is that she can lead the most normal life possible,” says Christine. “The care she’s received has been phenomenal. It’s made a huge improvement on her life and our lives.”