It happened so fast.
Mancelona resident Kandace Day took her 4-year-old son, Charlie, to the Emergency Room for some medicine and the next thing she knew, he was being flown to a Grand Rapids hospital, where 15 doctors were waiting to rush him to the ICU.
“Your child yelling ‘mama, help me I want to go home,’” Day says. “Daddy didn’t know what to do. He was even terrified. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives.”
It all began with a Halloween gathering with her in-laws, who had contracted COVID-19 unknowingly. Soon, the whole family became ill.
A month after they finished isolation and had recovered, Charlie developed a low fever and a rash in his diaper area.
The family doctor prescribed an antibiotic, but Day worried when it took too long to get filled at the pharmacy. Her mother’s instinct kicked in.
“That pretty much saved my kid’s life,” she says. “I was so worried about not getting that antibiotic that night. I took him to the ER because I needed that antibiotic.”
Tests revealed there was inflammation in his major organs. His kidney, his lungs and his heart were all struggling.
They diagnosed him with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a rare condition where children experience a severe inflammatory response that affects two or more organ systems.
Doctors are seeing these cases tied to the coronavirus and they can show up late — in Charlie’s case, over a month after his mild COVID symptoms.
After tests at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, it was clear Charlie needed specialty care. So he was flown to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.
Only a short time after the onset of symptoms, Kandace says her son was unconscious on a ventilator, fighting for his life.
“Only three days. And it looked like a common cold. He only had a fever,” she says.
Since then, Charlie had about 10 different medicines pumping through him, Kandace says. He was on the vent for three days, but by last Sunday he was strong enough to breath on his own.
Since the disease was linked to the coronavirus pandemic, doctors have learned more about Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome.
Dr. Eric McGrath, an associate professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases and prevention at Wayne State University School of Medicine, treated some of the first MIS-C patients at Children’s Hospital in Detroit.
A few weeks after the coronavirus ripped through the city at the beginning of the pandemic, he saw a dozen children come to the hospital with symptoms similar to Kawasaki’s disease, an illness in children which causes blood vessels to be inflamed.
McGrath says about a third to up to a half of the patients may require ICU care.
“It was surprising to see them come in and be so ill,” McGrath says.
He’s seen how the disease affects kids ages 3 months to 17 years old. Almost all of them were extremely healthy before.
Being on the lookout for the onset of symptoms is important, he says.
“It’s a little subtle in its initial presentation,” says McGrath. “But because of the severity that can come quickly afterwards it’s important to do those tests.”
Doctors in northern Michigan know what to look for, and are monitoring their patients who have a prolonged fever.
So far, Charlie is the only patient known to have received hospital care for the illness in northwest lower Michigan.
Kalkaska Pediatrician Dr. Cynthia Smith says the vast majority of children have mild reactions to COVID-19.
“But those children who have very persistent fever, are acting sick or sicker, have significant rash, are working hard to breath, those things we want to be sure to pay attention to and test more aggressively.”
A closely-monitored recovery
More than a week after his admission, Charlie is still at the hospital but doing much better.
He’s re-learning to talk and walk. When he leaves, he’ll need follow-up care in the form of daily shots and weekly appointments with a team of specialists in Grand Rapids.
Now that Charlie’s starting to feel better, his mother Kandace has had time to reflect on the events that sent her son to the hospital.
“I did take my kids to the store,” she says. “We did go to grandma and grandpa’s house. I thought that COVID was overrated, unfortunately, and I had to learn a bad way.”
To other families, Kandace warns: “mask up and stay home.”
“You don’t want to end up with your child in the ICU, or your grandparent, your father, anybody regretting your choices.”