A common cold has left an active, healthy 12-year-old Auckland girl paralysed from the waist down.

In June this year, Gabby Wright went from playing representative netball one day, to being unable to use her legs the next.

After a weekend of sport, she complained of a sore back to her mum Vanessa.

She took a bath, and felt better.

Advertisement

But the following day Gabby again complained of a sore back. He mum again told her to hop in the bath, and promised apply a rub on anti-inflammatory afterwards.

"In the bath my legs started getting really painful," Gabby told the Herald on Sunday.

She hopped out to use the toilet and said her legs felt strange.

"I went to the toilet but then I couldn't get off, I just collapsed on the ground."

Gabby was rushed to Middlemore Hospital then transferred to Starship, where she was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis - an inflammation of the spinal cord causing paralysis.

A cold two or three weeks earlier likely caused a viral infection that led to the inflammation.

"We thought nothing of it at the time," Gabby's mum said.

"It was just a normal cold - she didn't even have a day off school."

Gabby spent the following five weeks in hospital, enduring needles, catheters, central lines, nasogastric tubes, suppositories, plasma transfusions, blood tests, poking, prodding, physio and lots of frustration, fears and tears, her mum said.

She was then transferred to Wilson Trust Child Rehabilitation Centre, where she had nine weeks of intensive physical therapy.

Things are improving slowly, and Gabby can now feel deep pressure in her legs. But she still can't move, or feel hot and cold. This week she has a small muscle spasm, which the family are taking as a positive sign. For Gabby to recover, her nerves need to regenerate.

"That's our goal, and that's our hope. But sometimes it just doesn't happen. The stats are 30 per cent chance of a full recovery, 30 per cent partial recovery."

The remainder is of no recovery at all.

But now that Gabby's been home in Ardmore for a week, things are starting to get back to normal.

She's arguing with her little sister, and her friends from school visit each weekend.

She's even playing wheelchair basketball, and looking up wheelchair stunts on YouTube.

"She's not letting anything hold her back - she's accepted that this is her life at the moment," Vanessa said.

"We were having a chat one night and I said to her 'no matter what anyone says to us we're just gonna keep moving forward, keep fighting and do whatever we can'," Vanessa said.

"She said to me: 'It's just like what Dory [from Disney movie Finding Nemo] says: When life gets you down, you know what you got to do? Just keep swimming'."

Vanessa hopes to buy a special motorised exercycle bike for Gabby, to help improve her chances of recovery.

The $17,000 to $20,000 functional electrical stimulation bike uses pulses of electrical current to stimulate the nerves that make her muscles contract. The Wilson centre does not have one, and they're not available to rent in New Zealand, Vanessa said.

She's set up a Givealittle page to help buy the bike: https://www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/gabbysroadtorecovery

After Gabby's recovered, they will donate it to Wilson Trust Child Rehabilitation Centre or Starship Hospital.

"I just want children to have access to it... If Gabby had access to it earlier her recovery might have been a little bit different at this point."

Since the page was set up last week, Vanessa has been blown away by the response. They've even had young Silver Fern Maia Wilson get in touch - calling Gabby and promising to visit when she's next in Auckland.

"Gabby just looked at me with her eyes and mouth wide open, she couldn't believe it."

The generosity has stunned the family.

"We've been given money by people who don't even know us, or have little to give. The kindness in which it's been given has blown me off my feet and restored my faith in the human spirit," Vanessa said.

"Life beyond this is going to be very different. Gabby is amazing and she'll just keep on going."

Neurological Foundation medical director Dr Jon Simcock said transverse myelitis is an uncommon condition. It can result from many bugs, including the common cold, although in many case the cause isn't found.

"The body's immunity is triggered against some component in the spinal cord and causes local inflammation there ... Immune reactions can be triggered by a number of viruses."

There is no cure and patients are treated with corticosteroids to help the inflammation to resolve. Patients usually have only one episode of the disorder - unlike with multiple sclerosis, which sometimes starts with similar symptoms.

"Generally if the person is still able to move their legs, they make a pretty good recovery."