BENTON, Ark. -- A central Arkansas family is using tragedy to bring awareness to an under-the-radar disease with devastating consequences.
PANS and PANDAS are acronyms for two types of autoimmune responses triggered by a virus or bacterial infection. The field of study is relatively new and doctors are working to learn more about the full impact.
But for Becky and Bradley Wallace, the disease hits close to home.
"He was full of life," Becky said of her son Max.
Before he got sick Max loved football, wrestling and soccer. He also played the violin.
But things changed when Max was in the third grade.
"Overnight he started having tics and anxiety," Becky explained. "In the last year he stopped eating." Max was afraid his food was poisoned. He had severe depression.
For years, doctors didn't know what was wrong with Max. Then, his parents took him to see pediatrician Dr. Jana Jennings who diagnosed him with pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome(PANS). In Max's case, Jennings says it was triggered by a strep throat infection that showed no symptoms and went undetected.
"Your immune system can start producing antibodies that cross react with structures in your brain," Jennings explains.
Max was awaiting treatment from a specialist at Arkansas Children's Hospital, but on the day before Christmas 2016 he committed suicide. He was just 13 years old.
The emotion is still raw for Becky and Bradley, but they're using their story to promote awareness. There are so few specialists in Arkansas that the wait for treatment can be up to three years.
Some doctors don't believe the disease is widespread. Others say it impacts as many as many as 1/200 people in some form.
More research is needed but the Wallaces are not waiting. They're working with the Saline Memorial Health Foundation to increase diagnostic and treatment opportunities in central Arkansas.
"We don't want to see another child lose their life," Wallace said.
St. Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton has filed a resolution seeking to bring awareness to the disease.
He's also working on legislation with an aim of getting more people help.