Long Island teenager recovers from rare polio-like illness

LEVITTOWN, Long Island (WABC) -- A 16-year-old Long Island boy has made an amazing recovery after coming close to dying a little more than a year ago.

Alec Woodruff suffered from a polio-like illness known as AFM, one of only 600 cases of the disease in the US in the past five years.

"I did say that to my mom one day that as long as I still have my brain, I'll be all right," said Alec.

He remembers all of it, all but the 13 days he spent in a coma from a rare illness most people have never heard of.

"Acute flaccid myelitis. Yeah," he said.

AFM is most often triggered by a common virus but, for reasons not fully understood, in some people, it can cause paralysis, even death.

"It causes his spinal cord to inflame so much," said Alec's mother Terri Woodruff. "And because your spinal cord runs through your respiratory system, he went into complete respiratory failure."

His mom says early diagnosis likely saved Alec's life. But he was left partially paralyzed. It took four months of rehabilitation at the Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, NY before Alec was able to be discharged.

"If you focus on the negative of it, then you're not gonna get anything out of it," Alec said. "You've got to look at the positive. Like, the positive was that I'm still alive."

On his last day, Alec shocked everyone. He was determined to walk out of the hospital.

"He stood up and walked to me," said Terri. "I'm gonna cry now, like I did that day. And he never stopped walking. And that's it. It was the best day ever. There is no greater gift than that, sorry."

Alec says his recovery is far from complete. But he's back in school. And his goal now is to inspire others.

"What I did learn about myself is that I'm definitely determined, and the fact that I always look at silver lining, I'm never looking at the dark side of a situation, I'm always looking at the light, and it really is a wonderful thing," Alec said.

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