A 15-year-old English boy was finally diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease after doctors continuously dismissed his symptoms as “hormonal.”
When Sam Fitzgerald began losing his temper out of character, his general practitioner concluded his emotions were a result of being a “moody teenager.” Fitzgerald’s mother noticed that his temper was becoming increasingly short and continued to take him to several other doctors.
After six diagnoses, each doctor insisted that Fitzgerald’s mood swings were a teenage problem.
“In March last year his temper increased and things would make him really angry that just shouldn’t,” Jackie Courtney said of her son’s temper. “We contacted his school to see if he was being bullied, but he wasn’t.”
Fitzgerald’s condition got progressively worse. His speech became slurred and his hands and toes curled up. Now, he has been confined to a wheelchair with an uncertain future.
When a blood test was eventually performed on Fitzgerald, it was discovered that he was suffering from the life-threatening Wilson’s disease. The disease leads to a copper accumulation in the liver and brain tissues, which can trigger fits of rage and loss of motor control.
During one particularly bad episode, Fitzgerald ran out of the house and was returned later by police who asked if he’d been drinking, since he was slurring his words. On another day, Fitzgerald complained that he couldn’t walk properly. When he took off his shoes, Courtney had to straighten out his toes, although they curled back again.
Still, doctors insisted he was simply acting out.
“I went back to his school in tears and said I didn’t know what to do,” Courtney said. “Mother’s intuition was telling me this was not just a teenage boy being moody.”
One of the teachers then advised Courtney not to stop searching for answers if she thought her son was sick.
Finally, a doctor named Dr. Watson took on Fitzgerald’s case. Fitzgerald was sent to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where specialists ran liver biopsy and confirmed that he had Wilson’s disease. Fitzgerald has now been put on medication to prevent copper absorption.
To date, Courtney has maintained that the disease could have been prevented if doctors had taken more care early on.