Hokes Bluff parent shares story of son's symptoms - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Hokes Bluff parent shares story of son's symptoms

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Etowah County Sheriff's deputies and school officials stand outside Hokes Bluff Middle School after its closure Thursday afternoon. (abc3340.com) Etowah County Sheriff's deputies and school officials stand outside Hokes Bluff Middle School after its closure Thursday afternoon. (abc3340.com)
James Swink provided this photo of his sixth-grade son's rashes. James Swink provided this photo of his sixth-grade son's rashes.
HOKES BLUFF, Ala. -

James Swink's son remains in the hospital, a day after he and other students became sick at Hokes Bluff Middle School.  Swink said he is scared to death because doctors don't know the cause.

William Swink is in sixth grade at the school.  He was not in the physical education class where several eighth grade students began to have difficulty breathing Thursday morning.

Paramedics initially took nine students for medical treatment.  School administrators evacuated more than 300 middle school students to the high school.  About four more students then began to suffer similar symptoms.  So did a teacher, who was not in the P. E. class.

Over the course of the afternoon and evening, 10 more students went to the emergency room for treatment.  A hospital spokesperson said Thursday evening that doctors admitted five or six for overnight observation, including William Swink.

"He started feeling real sluggish yesterday afternoon, probably around 2 o'clock," James Swink said.

"We took him straight to the emergency room and he just went downhill from there.  He got to where he was real lethargic.  Felt real disoriented and real exhausted.  He couldn't stand up.  He just felt real bad."

Unlike the majority of the students who went to the hospital Thursday morning, Swink said his son did not suffer from respiratory problems.  He developed a rash across his torso, back, and face.  Swink said it was unlike anything he'd seen before, as the rash would appear and then disappear a few minutes later.

"It'd start out in small areas and then eventually in his face.  His face is still real rosy this morning.  He's got real rosy cheeks.  It comes and goes," Swink said.

He said his son didn't complain about pain, but felt like he was unable to move.  However, William had some involuntary movements that scared his parents.

"He was starting to twitch and his hands would get contorted in ways that you can't physically do that yourself.  I don't know if it was a nerve situation or what," James Swink said.

"It's scary.  I talked to a lot of parents and we all felt the same.  We just didn't know what to do," he said.

"Your kids are laying there and you can't help them.  And they don't know what's wrong.  The doctors can't tell you.  You just don't know what's going to happen next."

Swink said his son is the type of kid who starts talking as soon as he wakes up in the morning and doesn't stop until bedtime.  But Thursday, "he didn't say ten words to me in seven hours."

School officials are still trying to figure out what caused the children to get sick.  Police and sheriff's deputies found nothing suspicious.

The Hazmat team from the Gadsden Fire Department's Hazmat team could not find any airborne toxins.  An Alagasco crew tested for carbon monoxide and searched for gas leaks, but their inspection came up negative as well.

Etowah County EMA is at the school Friday collecting air samples for testing, and the Alabama Department of Public Health is also involved in the investigation.

An EMA representative said it will be up to state officials to make a decision about contacting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Swink said school administrators are doing the best they can.  He hopes they find answers soon.

"It's important what happens with our children.  A situation like this, even though nobody died so far, it wasn't a gun shoot out or anything like this.  It's still important.  It still means a lot to us that other people care," Swink said.

Etowah County Schools superintendent Alan Cosby will be providing an update on the investigation this afternoon.

ABC 33/40 will have the latest information on air at 4 p.m., as well as on abc3340.com

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