Mother’s persistence and Norton Children’s expertise leads to discovery and treatment of brain infection

Headaches affecting a 9-year-old Southern Indiana boy turned out to be much more. Read about his diagnosis and recovery.

Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, offers outstanding neurological condition diagnosis, treatment and care.  

No parent wants to see their child in pain. For months this summer, Anita Salik watched her 9-year-old son, Harold, experience persistent, debilitating headaches.

“I would always wake up in the night and it would hurt,” Harold said. “I couldn’t stop crying.”

“He’d get mad sometimes when he had it because he just couldn’t enjoy life,” Anita said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Anita, who lives in New Albany, Indiana, took Harold to multiple emergency departments. Each time doctors advised her Harold was experiencing migraine. But regardless of what medicine was given, Harold’s headache kept coming back.

After Harold had been in pain for weeks, a member of Anita’s church suggested Norton Children’s Hospital. According to Anita, when she took Harold to Norton Children’s, she started to get answers for herself and her son.

Getting a diagnosis

According to William C. Gump, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon with Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, it can be difficult to determine when headaches are the symptom of a more serious condition.

“Headache is an extremely nonspecific issue, and the vast majority of the time, it’s benign stuff,” Dr. Gump said. “Clinically, what Harold had is almost impossible to diagnose early.”

Though Harold had received a CT scan at another hospital, the team at Norton Children’s decided to perform an MRI. That scan showed masses on Harold’s brain.

Dr. Gump performed surgery on Harold in July 2023 to decompress his brain and determine what exactly the mass was — ultimately finding an abscess, an infection in the brain. Though not an entirely uncommon diagnosis, in Harold’s case it was surprising.

“Usually there’s some known predisposing factor that leads to this,” Dr. Gump said. “Either an immune deficiency or some known kind of heart issue — and he didn’t seem to have any of the risk factors for developing in an abscess.”

According to Dr. Gump, without treatment abscesses can lead to seizures and other serious symptoms.

For Anita, though the situation was scary, she was grateful to learn the cause of her son’s pain.

“I was relieved, and I had faith that he would be cured,” Anita said.

On the road to recovery

Harold spent several weeks at Norton Children’s Hospital while undergoing antibiotic treatment — building Legos, playing darts with staff and, eventually, feeling a lot better.

“I’ll miss the hospital staff,” Harold said. “I had fun over here.”

The care and expertise provided by Norton Children’s brought not only an answer, but also peace of mind.

“I like the way they treat him, the way they care for him and love him,” Anita said. “I am touched, and I don’t know how to say thank you to each one of them for all this. They’re all amazing.”

When to be concerned about headache

Parents can use the following guidance when it comes to treating a child’s headaches:

For the initial headache:

  • Parents should offer their child an over-the-counter painkiller, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Check for and/or modify the following lifestyle factors:

Proper hydration and nutrition; adequate sleep and exercise; limiting stress and screen time

If the headaches persist:

  • Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to begin initial lines of treatment.