Deadly Viral Encephalitis Strikes ‘Incredible Child’


Scott Holden’s 10-year-old daughter, Nacelle, should be composing her Christmas list right now.

She should be coloring her Thanksgiving decorations. Looking forward to a holiday break from school. Enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and magic of the holiday season.


Amber Mulkey of Payson holds a treasured photograph of her 10-year-old niece, Nacelle Holden, who was stricken three weeks ago with encephalitis. The girl is now struggling for her life in a Tucson hospital.

Instead, the little girl is in a Tucson hospital. Unconscious. Being kept alive by 26 intravenous bags filled with drugs.

And hope that she will ever open her eyes or speak or go home is “minimal at best,” according to her aunt, Amber Mulkey, Holden’s sister.

Early this month, Mulkey said, Nacelle developed a severe, migraine-type headache. Still, she went to school and kept going despite her worsening headache and two separate trips to a Tucson emergency room.

At 5:15 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 9, Holden received a telephone call from his ex-wife and Nacelle’s mother, Dana Reynolds of Tucson, who told him that Nacelle had just been taken to Tucson’s University Medical Center by ambulance following a 55-minute seizure.

The prognosis was grim. Nacelle had contracted encephalitis inflammation of the brain tissue most commonly caused by a viral infection such as chicken pox, hepatitis or influenza. Generally, encephalitis has a low complication rate and is hardly ever fatal. A few types, however, are quite dangerous.

Nacelle appears to have been stricken by one of those types. Within three days after her arrival at the hospital, she was put into a medication-induced coma. She has not spoken or opened her eyes since then.

“This poor baby, bless her heart,” Mulkey said Monday. “Her hospital room is a horrific scene to walk into. Her body, her brain activity, everything is basically flatlined. She has a bolt in her head to monitor brain pressure. There’s 15 monitors just for the IVs. She’s on full, complete life support. We’ve already received two calls from the hospital saying, ‘You’d better come now, she’s not going to make it.’ She’s that critical.”

It won’t be for another week or two, Mulkey said, before Nacelle’s doctors will know if her brain will “wake up and hopefully tell her major organs to start functioning again because, right now, they are not functioning.”

Until then, the girl’s future is unknown.

“She has four doctors working on her, and I somehow got up the strength to ask one of them what her chances for survival are,” Mulkey recalled. “He said her chances are minimal. He told me about two similar cases he’d worked on involving 10-year-old patients. One did not survive, and the other did survive but is in a vegetative state.”

Holden, known to his friends and co-workers as “Muff” or “Muffy,” works for Bobcat Concrete. His family including his father, Sonny Holden, and mother, Jacki has lived in Payson since 1974. And Nacelle was born here in 1992, five years before she and her mother moved to Tucson.

Fortunately, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System will cover Nacelle’s medical bills, Mulkey said. But that doesn’t mean the girl’s family is without some very serious financial concerns.

“The problem is, Nacelle can’t be left alone because she’s so critical,” Mulkey said. “Her dad, her mom, me, whoever someone has to be with her around the clock in 12-hour shifts. Scott has missed three weeks of work to be down there, to be with her. Both he and Dana are exhausted. My parents went down and stayed four or five days. I’ve been down there several times, but I can’t go back. I just don’t have the money. It’s very costly the lodging, the meals, and the gas is astronomical.”

Mulkey paused and took a deep breath.

“What I would love for everyone to know is what an incredible child Nacelle is,” she finally said.

“She loves to dance and sing. She’d just auditioned for a Tucson dinner theater, and she was cast in a major role with three solo songs. She was in rehearsals when she got this headache.

“This is just ... just ... so hard.”

How to help

To help pay the visiting and travel expenses of Nacelle’s family, Mulkey is organizing a benefit event set for Saturday, Dec. 7, from 2 p.m. to “whenever” at the Spur Bar in Star Valley. Mexican dinners will be available for $5 per person. Any person or business that would like to donate items for an auction should call Mulkey at (928) 474-8261 or (928) 595-1028.

Monetary donations can be made at Wells Fargo Bank, Account No. 5371959866.

Encephalitis and your child

Immediately call your doctor if your child:

  • Develops a headache accompanied by fever, pain when the neck is stretched and sensitivity to bright light
  • Develops neurological symptoms double vision, unequal pupil size, hearing impairment or personality changes that increase in severity over several hours.


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