Ten years ago, Tammi Spring's daughter, Allie, woke up one day feeling like a different person. She was only 8 years old at the time.
(Listen to the full Kind World episode here. Tammi's story starts at 8:07)
"She just wasn't herself," Tammi says. "She moved [her hands] differently. Her eyes were dilated. She was totally sensitive to light and she had this debilitating anxiety about how she could go out, who she could be around, things like that."
Allie had a strep infection. But in this instance, her immune system overreacted to the bacteria, causing swelling in her brain. Her doctors didn't know it at the time, but the swelling explained the changes in Allie's behavior. Instead, some of her providers suggested that Allie be placed in an institution and treated for behavioral and mental health issues. That didn't sound right to Tammi. She was scared for her daughter and frustrated by the lack of progress in her medical treatment.
It took the family two years to find a doctor who was able to correctly diagnose and treat Allie for an autoimmune disorder called PANDAS or (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.) Among other treatments, Allie's doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Latimer, put Allie back on antibiotics and gave her steroids to help reduce the swelling in her body.
"I couldn’t go to school. I had to have a tutor come into the house. I couldn’t go out with friends. It’s hard."Allie
Finally Allie was getting the treatment she needed, but the two long years of misdiagnosis had already stretched the family emotionally and financially. Tammi lost her job at a startup because she had to stay home to take care of her daughter. Allie remembers having to stay home for months so that she wouldn't get infected with strep again during treatment. It was isolating for the whole family.
"I couldn’t go to school. I had to have a tutor come into the house. I couldn’t go out with friends. It’s hard,"Allie remembers.
Then, around Christmas time in 2010, Tammi heard footsteps on the porch and the doorbell ringing.
"We opened the door and there was a package on the doorstep," Tammi says. "We thought it was really cute and the next day, there was another 'ding dong door ditch' where they rang the doorbell and ran away and left another little gift.
There was a small but thoughtful gift for each of the 12 days of Christmas — things like handwritten notes, poems and chocolates.
"I just remember that every night, I’d be super excited I’d run out to see the full basket of stuff," Allie says. "It was just Christmas joy before Christmas."
"It really lifted our spirits, and it really did make us feel like everything was going to be OK."Tammi Spring
Tammi suspects that the mystery gift-givers were actually her neighbors at the Ashburn, Va., neighborhood where she used to live. She's heard some familiar giggling outside of her door but she's never been able to get anyone to confess.
The family recently moved to Denver and Allie is getting ready to go to college. Both mother and daughter often reflect on that difficult period in their lives. Still, they can't help but smile at the thought of those surprise gifts "magically" appearing on their front porch all of those years ago. Back then, they meant the world.
"It really lifted our spirits, and it really did make us feel like everything was going to be OK," Tammi says.