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Mystery Illness Impacts Santa Barbara Teen

A mystery illness has top medical officials around the country focusing on Santa Barbara.

A nurse with neuro/spinal rehab experience has traveled from the Craig Rehab Hospital outside Denver, Colorado to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital, to assess Grace Fisher, a teenager diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis.

The polio-like, paralyzing syndrome has impacted 107 children in 34 states between August of 2014 and January of this year; Grace is the 101st child patient to be diagnosed.

It was a day of celebration, a month ago Sunday during a belated party for her Grace’s 17th birthday, when life took a horrific turn. Her mother, Debbie, is journaling her daughter’s battle on

“Mom, my hands feel numb and I have a pain in my neck, I think we need to go to the hospital,” Grace told her mom.

Within seconds after arriving at Cottage Hospital, Fisher was unable to walk. A short time later, her breathing was impacted and she was intubated.

She was quickly diagnosed with pneumonia — a symptom among some, but not all of the other child patients diagnosed.

The teen who has a passion for singing, dancing and music — she’s an accomplished guitarist, pianist and cellist — and has her sights set on the Berklee College of Music, is currently unable to move or speak.

Blinking eyes and reading lips are ways of communication these days.

Treatments include plasmapheresis — a process in which the liquid in the blood, or plasma, is separated from the cells — along with massages from her parents, who are physical therapists. Five days ago, Grace was extubated in hopes of making her more comfortable and better able to communicate, and she underwent a tracheotomy.

“We’re a school of 2,200 students,” said Santa Barbara High School Principal John Becchio. “You would think that one student wouldn’t make a difference but in Gracie’s case, she makes a huge difference in terms of our school community and our school culture. We miss her terribly,” Becchio said.

“All the groups she’s involved with kind of just show their love by printing out pictures, cutting out hearts which are glued in her hospital room on the wall,” said her friend and classmate, Lizzie Saunders. “So when she’s awake she can look up and see all the love that she has.”

Photos on post.hope show the dozens, if not hundreds of hearts glued to the wall in Grace’s hospital room. After all, Grace is in at least a half dozen singing and music groups on campus and off. And, the teen gives music lessons to a number of children, including 10-year-old Laura Hunter and her 8-year-old sister Hailey, both of whom mastered “The Donkey” on the piano, thanks to Grace.

“She let me pick out my own songs and she helped me,” said Laura. “When I messed up she let me play over and she taught me … If she tries hard enough she’ll get over it,” said Laura.

“She is very, very patient and she really likes to … help people out, on … music and all that stuff,” said Hailey. “And she’s really, really nice, too. We really miss her and we’d like her to come back,” said Hailey.

Her friend Lizzie said the same.

“Gracie, we all love you, we all miss you and we all know you can get through this. It’s just a bump in the road.”

If you’d like to help with an organized Meal Train, log on here:

A benefit lunch will be held Sunday, Jan. 25th, at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. The church has directed their annual Feast for the Children fundraiser to be in support of the Fishers. The food is being provided by Via Maestra 42 and 100 percent of the proceeds will be given to the Fishers.

There will be three seating times: 11:30a.m., 12:30p.m., and 1:30p.m. Contact the church to reserve tickets for the event. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for age 10 and below. To RSVP and reserve tickets for your seating, please contact the church at 963-3579 or email

Many of you have expressed a desire to support the Fishers financially. Friends opened an account for the Fishers at a local Santa Barbara bank. Jen Oakley is handling the check deposits. Make the checks out to “Gracie Fisher Fund,” and mail them to:

Gracie Fisher Fund
c/o Jennifer Oakley
308 Paseo Del Descanso
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Or, Contact Jen directly at to coordinate.

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