The mother of a 12-year-old boy who tried to kill himself by hanging - again - urges parents and guardians to pay close attention to their children if they have been diagnosed as bipolar and take the prescription drug Abilify.
Her son, Justin Hill, who attends Arab Junior High School, remained at Huntsville Hospital after attempting to hang himself last Friday in his aunt's carport. A family member found him hanging, unconscious, and performed CPR until EMTs arrived.
The results of a brain scan the family got Thursday shows that her son is recovering, said Sebrinia Wilson Hill of Arab. Doctors said they expect him to recover, but they cannot say when.
"He is breathing on his own," said Wilson, who goes by her maiden name. "They removed the breathing tube Thursday. His blood pressure is good, and the brain scan looked good. He's opened his eyes and looked around, but he hasn't started talking yet. He's not Justin yet."
"We don't know how long he was deprived of oxygen," said Wilson. "As a mother, I believe with all my heart he's going to be OK."
At least some of Justin's problems are said to date back eight years ago to a wreck the Hills had in Lacey's Spring. It killed Hill's husband, Todd, and left her a quadriplegic.
Justin and his two brothers were in the vehicle.
"I was in a coma for month and given no chance of coming off the ventilator," Wilson said. "I overcame all of it.
"I can't walk, but there is nothing wrong with my mind. I don't think it's left up to the doctor. There's a higher power."
Since the wreck, the three boys have lived off and on with their aunt, Zona Camp, their legal guardian, on Swinging Bridge Road. Wilson lives on Hulaco Road.
"She has been there for them from the get-go," said an appreciative Wilson, who was in the hospital herself for an infection when Justin hung himself.
He and another brother began seeing a mental health counselor after the wreck. Wilson said Justin was diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder.
"As his mother, I have to disagree with that," Wilson said. "He is outgoing, high-strung. He was just being a boy.
"His parents are high-strung. There was no such thing as 'I can't.' I'm still that way."
For about a year, Justin has been taking Concerta for the ADHD and Abilify for his bipolar condition.
"Abilify does cause suicidal tendencies and high blood sugar spikes," Wilson said.
About six months ago Justin tried to hang himself from a tree at a "fort" built in the woods near Camp's house. Wilson said she learned that only when a family member slipped up and mentioned it in front of her.
Two or three months ago, Justin's dosage of Abilify was increased from 10 to 15 mg, she said.
"He told his counselor and my aunt that he did not like the way it made him feel, that he was having bad thoughts," Wilson said.
She, Camp and neighbors saw Justin earlier in the day he hung himself, and he exhibited no signs of problems or depression, Wilson said.
"He gave none of us the sense that he had suicide on his mind," she said.
The incident happened about 8 p.m., and her cousin, Andy Camp, found and revived him.
Though unconscious, Justin blinks his eyes and sometimes frets and kicks, trying to jerk out his tubes, Wilson said.
"We put prayer cloth over him the other day and he cried," she said. "His fever is down. He is trying to respond. He's agitated, but he can hear us."
She first urged parents and guardians whose children are diagnosed with bipolar disorder to seek further testing, and if they are taking Abilify for it, to pay close attention.
"They need to listen to what their children say - especially if they say it makes them feel weird - so something like this does not happen again," Wilson said. "I have been through a lot and am a strong person, but this has about made me crazy. My children are what keep me going."
Abilify (aripiprazole), by Bristol-Myers Squibb, is commonly-prescribed, according to various websites.
The FDA first approved it in 2002 for use in the treatment of schizophrenia in adults. In 2004 it was approved for the treatment of episodes associated with bipolar disorders in adults.
FDA approval for using Abilify to treat patients 10-17 years old with schizophrenia was giving in October 2007, followed in February 2008 for pediatric treatment of bipolar disorder.
The company's website says the most commonly observed adverse side effects, reported by 5 percent or more of pediatric Abilify patients - more than twice as often as placebo patients - were an inner sense of restlessness or the need to move, shakes, muscle stiffness or other involuntary movements, sleepiness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, drooling and dizziness.
According to a required warning on its box, it's not approved for use in pediatric patients with depression.
"Antidepressants may increase suicidal thoughts or behaviors in some children, teenagers and young adults, especially within the first few months of treatment or when the dose is changed," states the company's website for Abilify. "Depression and other serious mental illnesses are themselves associated with an increase in the risk of suicide.
"Patients on antidepressants and their families or caregivers should watch for new or worsening depression symptoms, unusual changes in behavior or thoughts of suicide," it continues. "Such symptoms should be reported to the patient's healthcare professional right away, especially if they are severe or occur suddenly."