CMV, a common and usually harmless virus, changed the course of this mother's life

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2023 - 11:18am

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Kathleen and Gideon Muldoon in the studio with nurse Jen.
Lauren Gilger/KJZZ
Gideon Muldoon with his mother, Kathleen, and nurse, Jen.

Kathleen Muldoon is an anatomy professor who has done extensive research on prenatal care and embryonic health. But, when she was pregnant with her second child, a son named Gideon, she encountered a virus that she had never heard of; one that changed the course of her life — and her son’s. 

It’s called cytomegalovirus, or CMV. It’s common, and often harmless. But, when it’s passed from a pregnant mother to her child, it can have dire consequences. CMV causes more birth defects than any other infectious disease — from deafness and blindness to autism and cerebral palsy. But, like most pregnant people, Muldoon was never warned about it. And Gideon was born with profound disabilities. 

Gideon and his mother came into our studios recently with his nurse, Jen, and The Show spoke with them more about it, but first, Gideon wanted to introduce himself. He communicates using a large, green recordable button.

Gideon has 28 active diagnoses, including cerebral palsy, deafness, visual impairment and epilepsy. He uses a wheelchair to get around and a feeding tube to eat. 

He also goes to school, loves music by Andrew Bird and Wilco, and making up his own stories, and, his mother says, often uses his button to record knock-knock jokes.

His life hasn’t been what Muldoon expected when he was born 9 years ago. But, she told The Show, she wouldn’t change anything about him. Kathleen and Gideon are featured in a new book about CMV, called "Remedies for Sorrow" and she told The Show more about their story.

Muldoon told me "about 10% of babies who contract CMV will be symptomatic at birth like Gideon." But, there’s a lot we don’t know about it still. In fact, she told me, "of the 90% of infants who have had the virus and are born without symptoms, 10% to 20% of them will go on to develop long-term disabilities — and we’ll never know why."

There are several clinical trials underway to treat CMV during pregnancy now and, Kathleen said, "early intervention can make a big difference."

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