Jake Wiederhorn bounds onto the porch of his family’s Potomac home wearing a Captain America T-shirt and soccer shorts. He’s 9 years old, bright and thoughtful, hair parted on the left and cut short on the sides, and he shows no hint of the nightmare he’s been fighting to leave behind for three years.
“The nausea and the headache’s better,” Jake tells his parents. Around his neck he wears a gold medal that his brother, Max, 12, and his sister, Kayla, 7, made for him out of paper. It’s a reward for what he’s been through this week in early August. He spent the past two days playing Xbox at a doctor’s office while an IV dripped antibodies into his arm. The IV can make him feel sick at first, he says, but it’s meant to help him overcome a terrifying disorder that upended his young life. On a late summer day in 2012, Jake transformed from a fun-loving 6-year-old into a screaming, cursing child so paralyzed with fear that he refused to leave his mother’s side. It came without warning. One week, he was being treated for a double ear infection; the next, he was tearing apart his bedroom in a rage.
“It’s hard on the family,” his mother, Debbie, says. “It’s hard on the siblings. It definitely impacts everybody. But I feel like it’s made us stronger as a family.”