In a world driven by technology, there are instances when artificial intelligence transcends its role and becomes a lifeline for those in need. How ChatGPT Helped Uncover a Child’s Hidden Medical Condition, This is the story of how ChatGPT, a revolutionary AI chatbot created by OpenAI, played a pivotal role in helping a concerned mother uncover the underlying cause of her son’s three-year-long, debilitating pain.
A Desperate Search for Answers
Courtney, who chose to withhold her last name, found herself in a state of despair when her son, Alex, began experiencing distressing symptoms at the tender age of four, during the Covid-19 lockdown. Their family nanny had resorted to administering daily doses of Motrin to alleviate Alex’s severe meltdowns. While the painkillers offered temporary relief, new and worrying symptoms began to surface.
Alex’s habit of chewing on objects raised concerns, leading the family to suspect dental issues such as cavities. However, a dental examination revealed no anomalies. Subsequently, Alex was referred to an orthodontist, who identified a small palate as the root of the problem. This condition could affect his sleep and overall well-being.
The orthodontist took action by fitting Alex with a palate expander, temporarily easing the family’s concerns. Courtney recalls, “Everything was better for a little bit. We thought we were in the home stretch.”
The Relentless Struggle
Despite the initial improvements, Alex’s suffering persisted. Courtney observed that her son had ceased growing and displayed an abnormal gait, leading with his right foot while dragging his left along. He also complained of severe headaches and constant fatigue.
Desperate for answers, Courtney embarked on a journey to consult medical experts, including a pediatrician, neurologist, and an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, among others. A total of 17 doctors were consulted, yet the family remained frustrated, with none of the recommended treatments offering a solution.
Turning to ChatGPT
After three long years of fruitless doctor visits, Courtney turned to ChatGPT as a last resort. This innovative chatbot, developed by OpenAI and released in 2022, is designed to engage in conversational interactions with users.
“I meticulously analyzed every detail in his MRI notes and input them into ChatGPT,” Courtney explained. “One specific detail caught my attention – his reluctance to sit crisscrossed. To me, this indicated a potential structural issue.”
ChatGPT’s insights led Courtney to a groundbreaking discovery: tethered cord syndrome, a complication often associated with spina bifida. Armed with this newfound knowledge, Courtney scheduled an appointment with a neurosurgeon, who confirmed that Alex indeed had a tethered spinal cord, a consequence of spina bifida occulta—a subtle form of spina bifida affecting spinal cord development. This condition is often referred to as “hidden” spina bifida and often goes undetected until later in a child’s life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Courtney recollects the moment when the new doctors disclosed, “Here’s occulta spina bifida, and here’s where the spine is tethered.” She experienced a whirlwind of emotions, from relief and validation to excitement for her son’s future.
ChatGPT’s Impact on Medicine
Researchers are already exploring the potential impact of ChatGPT in the medical field. A paper published in May in Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence acknowledged both the benefits and drawbacks of this technology in healthcare. “The potential applications of ChatGPT in the medical field range from identifying potential research topics to assisting professionals in clinical and laboratory diagnosis,” the paper stated. However, it also highlighted ethical and legal concerns associated with the use of ChatGPT and other AI tools in medical writing.
The Road Ahead
Experts concur that while ChatGPT holds promise in aiding individuals through the healthcare system, it is not without its limitations. As Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), noted, “While AI products show tremendous promise in helping alleviate physician administrative burdens and may ultimately be successfully utilized in direct patient care, OpenAI’s ChatGPT and other generative AI products currently have known issues and are not error-free.”
In the quest for answers, Courtney’s journey serves as a testament to the potential of AI like ChatGPT to uncover hidden medical conditions and offer hope where none seemed to exist. As technology continues to evolve, so too does the potential to unlock the mysteries of the human body, one chat at a time.
Amidst the turbulence of the pandemic, Courtney’s son, Alex, faced a series of perplexing health challenges. Despite her initial reservations, the pandemic’s impact on Alex’s growth led Courtney to consult a pediatrician. The doctor attributed his delayed development to the pandemic, a theory Courtney questioned. However, a follow-up visit did reveal some growth.
Soon after, Alex was referred to physical therapy due to apparent imbalances in his left and right sides. Courtney explained, “He would lead with his right foot and just bring his left foot along for the ride.”
Before beginning physical therapy, Alex was grappling with debilitating headaches, leading to a diagnosis of migraines by a neurologist. Further investigations took him to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, exploring the possibility of sinus or airway issues affecting his sleep.
Throughout this medical journey, the family encountered a frustrating pattern: specialists focused solely on their area of expertise, overlooking the bigger picture. Courtney lamented, “Nobody’s willing to solve for the greater problem. Nobody will even give you a clue about what the diagnosis could be.”
The turning point came when a physical therapist suspected Chiari malformation, a congenital condition affecting the brain-skull junction, as per the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Yet, even after extensive research and multiple doctor visits, the elusive diagnosis remained out of reach.
In a moment of desperation, Courtney turned to ChatGPT, creating an account on the AI platform and inputting all available information, including details from her son’s MRI scans. She painstakingly analyzed each piece of data, hoping to uncover a clue.
ChatGPT, with its vast knowledge base, became a valuable ally in this diagnostic odyssey. Patients using ChatGPT often find themselves “groping for information,” as Andrew Beam, Ph.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard, described. Nevertheless, ChatGPT’s unique capabilities, free from human biases and limitations, offered a fresh perspective.
Courtney’s meticulous analysis of her son’s MRI notes, including the observation that he wouldn’t sit “crisscross applesauce,” led to a breakthrough. ChatGPT suggested tethered cord syndrome as a potential diagnosis—a revelation that resonated with Courtney, offering a glimmer of hope.
Joining a Facebook group dedicated to families of children with tethered cord syndrome, Courtney found stories mirroring Alex’s struggles. Armed with newfound knowledge, she secured an appointment with a new neurosurgeon.
Examining the MRI images, the doctor swiftly identified the issue. Courtney recounted the moment, “She said point blank, ‘Here’s occulta spinal bifida, and here’s where the spine is tethered.'”
Tethered cord syndrome occurs when spinal cord tissue forms attachments that restrict movement, causing abnormal stretching. Dr. Holly Gilmer, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the Michigan Head & Spine Institute, elaborated, “The spinal cord is stuck to something. It could be a tumor in the spinal canal. It could be a bump on a spike of bones. It could just be too much fat at the end of the spinal cord. The abnormality can’t elongate… and it pulls.”
Alex’s condition fell under the category of “hidden,” as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it particularly challenging to diagnose.
Courtney shared her emotional rollercoaster, saying, “I experienced every emotion in the book, relief, validated, excitement for (Alex’s) future,” upon finally unraveling the mystery shrouding her son’s health.
Following the diagnosis, Alex underwent surgery to address his tethered cord syndrome. He now enjoys a carefree and joyful life, relishing the company of other children. While he had to relinquish baseball and hockey due to the pain and injuries they caused, his spirits remain undaunted.