Mum’s warning after son’s recovery from COVID-19 takes unexpected turn
In early October, nine-year-old US boy Joey Pellegrini contracted COVID-19.
Thankfully, his symptoms were mild and he was back in school about two weeks later.
“All of his symptoms were over, the head cold had gone,” Joey’s mother, Jane Pellegrini, told NBC.
“We thought, ‘No big deal. COVID wasn’t that scary after all.’ And that was it.”
But a few weeks later Joey developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a rare but serious complication of COVID-19.
As the name suggests, MIS-C affects multiple systems in the body and can even lead to organ damage or death without adequate treatment.
Experts have learned a lot about it and how to treat it since the beginning of the pandemic.
And they told NBC that the authorisation of COVID-19 vaccines for use in younger groups of kids is a promising development.
But as the winter holiday season approaches North America, there’s concern that a recent jump in COVID-19 cases in kids could signal more MIS-C cases down the line.
Coronavirus cases among kids are still down from their peak in September, but have been slowly rising again since the end of October.
In the week ending in November 18, there were nearly 142,000 cases in kids, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For Joey, MIS-C meant an emergency five-day stay in the hospital and lingering fatigue. Now, Pellegrini is sharing her family’s story in the hopes that other parents will know what to look for – and act quickly – should their child develop signs of MIS-C.
On October 29, Joey started feeling sick again with what Pellegrini assumed was simply a stomach bug.
As his fever began to rise to 39 degrees, she started to get more concerned.
And on that Sunday, when his heart began beating so fast that his body was vibrating, she knew something was seriously wrong.
“I went and got my Apple Watch and put it on his wrist,” she said.
“He had a really high heart rate of, like, 155 beats per minute.”
The pediatrician’s office was completely booked and nearby urgent care centres didn’t have any openings until the evening.
“My husband took the kids trick-or-treating and I took him to urgent care thinking we would be back in a couple hours,” Pellegrini said.
But the provider at urgent care was concerned about his EKG and sent them to the local hospital.
After their blood test results came back, the two were sent by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, about an hour away from their home in Fremont, New Hampshire.
“They had him hooked up to all the monitors, they had his IVs going,” Pellegrini recalled, adding that he had to wait about six hours for a room in the pediatric intensive care unit.
“From that point on, he spent three days in intensive care and then two days on the regular pediatric floor before we were released.”
During his time in the hospital, Joey received his MIS-C diagnosis and was treated with intravenous immune globulin (a type of blood-derived antibody treatment), steroids, blood pressure medication and intravenous fluids.
Doctors performed echocardiograms – essentially ultrasounds of the heart – and constantly monitored Joey’s heart rate.
“I was completely unaware of this MIS-C. I had no idea to even look for symptoms,” Pellegrini said.
“If I had any knowledge of this, I would have brought him in at the first signs of the stomach bug.”
Diana Bianchi, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said authorities were seeing an “uptick” in COVID cases in children.
“The concern is always that MIS-C tends to follow upticks in SARS-CoV-2 cases by three to four weeks,” she said.
There have been more than 5,500 MIS-C cases and 48 deaths due to the syndrome in the US since the pandemic began, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘He spent three days in intensive care and then two days on the regular pediatric floor before we were released.’
Although CDC data indicate that cases of MIS-C have been especially low over the past few weeks, that reduction is mainly due to a gap in CDC data on the syndrome.
So experts can’t say with certainty whether or not the current increase in coronavirus cases will lead to more MIS-C cases later on.
But we shouldn’t take the lack of MIS-C cases in the data right now as a sign that they aren’t out there.
The researchers that Bianchi works with across the country “have told us that they’re seeing plenty of cases of MIS-C,” she said. “So it’s a false reassurance.”
At first, MIS-C might look like a case of gastroenteritis, Sandy Hong, pediatric rheumatologist and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa, told NBC.
But with MIS-C, “they don’t get better after a couple of days.
“They actually get sicker and sicker,” Hong explained.