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Dutchess County Mom Recounts Daughter's Paralysis From Tick Bite

HOPEWELL JUNCTION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A New York mom is talking about a mystery paralysis that left her daughter fighting to survive. It all stemmed from a tick bite.

Two weeks ago, precocious 2-year-old Jenna Tomlins of Hopewell Junction gave her mother, Rachel, a scare of a lifetime when she woke up paralyzed.

Rachel Tomlins said she asked herself if her daughter was going to die. Doctors at their local urgent care and ER were stumped and thought it might be botulism.

"They did an IV, blood work, urine analysis, they did CAT scans, X-rays, MRIs and everything was coming back negative," Rachel Tomlins told CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez on Friday.

Jenna was rushed to Albany Medical Center, where pediatric neurologist Dr. Karen Powers recognized Jenna's symptoms from a tick paralysis case she had handled in Virginia.

"I said we really should check her hair for a tick," Powers said.

That's exactly what Dr. Powers discovered behind Jenna's left ear -- an engorged American Dog tick burrowed into Jenna's scalp, injecting a paralyzing toxin.

The tick-borne disease Jenna had is very rare and much different than Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an infection some deer ticks have and some don't. But experts say all American dog ticks carry the toxin that can cause paralysis.

There have only been about 50 cases of tick paralysis in the United States since 1946.

Tomlins is convinced Jenna was bitten in their backyard. Like most tick paralysis cases, Jenna's muscle weakness disappeared within hours after the dog tick was removed.

Doctors said the toddler could have died if the tick wasn't found.

Tomlins said she is "Unbelievably grateful...because you can't replace a child."

Tomlins had her lawn sprayed for ticks Friday and said she'll be more diligent about checking her children to keep safe.

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