A rare side effect of COVID-19 can cause respiratory and heart failure in some young people.
Health professionals call it “Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children,” or MISC.
One northern Michigan family says finding out their young son had it was one of the scariest moments of their lives.
It was mother’s worst nightmare. Kandace Day’s four-year-old son was air-vacced to the hospital with 15 doctors rushing him to the ICU.
“Your child yelling, 'Mama, help me I want to go home,'" Day said. "Daddy didn’t know what to do. He was even terrified. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives. When the doctor told us he could have been dead that night. I don’t think any mother wants to hear that come out of a doctor’s mouth.”
It all began with a Halloween gathering that resulted in the family getting COVID.
A month after the Mancelona family isolated and recovered, Charlie developed a low fever and a rash.
The family doctor prescribed an antibiotic, but it took too long to get filled at the pharmacy.
So Day's mother’s instinct kicked in. “That pretty much saved my kid’s life. Because I was so worried about not getting that antibiotic that night. I took him to the ER because I needed that antibiotic.”
That’s when things spiraled quickly.
Tests revealed there was inflammation in his major organs. His kidney, his lungs and his heart were all struggling.
They diagnosed him with 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 later. In Charlie’s case, more than a month after his mild COVID symptoms.
After tests at Munson Medical Center it was clear Charlie needed specialists. 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,” Day said.
Since then Charlie had about 10 different medicines pumping through him. He was on the vent for three days, but by last Sunday he was strong enough to breath on his own.
More has been learned about Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome since the disease was linked to the pandemic.
Dr. Eric McGrath is an associate professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University. He treated some of the first MIS-C patients at Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Much like Charlie’s case, he says up to half of the patients coming in need ICU care immediately.
“It was surprising to see them come in and be so ill,” McGrath said.
He’s seen how the disease affects kids ages 3 months to 17 years old. McGrath says almost all of them were extremely healthy before.
He says being on the lookout for the onset of symptoms is important.
“It’s a little subtle in its initial presentation," McGrath said, "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.
And Kalkaska pediatrician Dr. Cynthia Smith says most children have a mild reaction 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," Smith said.
Today, Charlie is still at the hospital but doing much better, relearning to talk and walk. And when he leaves he’ll still need follow up care.
Kandace has had time to reflect on the events that sent her son to the hospital.
“But I did take my kids to the store. We did go to grandma and grandpa’s house. I thought that COVID was overrated, unfortunately, and I had to learn a bad way,” she said.
To other families she 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.”