BALTIMORE (WMAR) — COVID-19 cases in children continue to rise, bringing concerns that more kids will suffer lasting symptoms.
A Harford County family knows firsthand how devastating they can be.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think that this would happen and she was just so sick,” said mom Lauren Deitz.
It started in the beginning of August. 8-year-old Morgan Deitz and her 10-year-old sister Natalie tested positive for COVID-19.
“We just thought we had very mild cases and were going on with the summer. So after we finished quarantine, we just went back to our typical normal selves,” said Lauren.
But a few weeks later, Morgan started getting really tired. She had a fever and stomach pains.
“Then I couldn’t walk,” said Morgan.
Lauren took her to an urgent care where she was tested for a bunch of things but they were all negative. The doctor said it could be a virus, but to watch for other symptoms of a rare but dangerous syndrome in children that happens after a COVID-19 infection.
Then the next morning, Morgan woke up with a red rash on her hands.
“That was one of the symptoms that the urgent care doctor said to look out for so she said if that happens to take her to an ER,” said Lauren.
She spent 10 days at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric ICU battling multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.
“What happens with these children or young adults is that their immune system is over stimulated and hyperactive post their infection,” said Dr. Meghan Bernier.
Bernier was one of Morgan’s doctors and is the medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
Since MIS-C was only identified last year, there’s less awareness so it’s harder to catch early on. It’s been common with children who have mild initial infections.
“Then about 2-4-6 weeks later is when we start to see the rise in the inflammation. They have malaise, generally tired, fevers, they may have a rash, abdominal pain and that’s what brings them in to seek care,” said Dr. Bernier.
She said the majority of children make a full recovery but it can be fatal.
“We’ve had 2 patients in the state of Maryland at least who’ve died of MIS-C,” said Bernier.
Because of the delta variants impact on kids, places like Johns Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger Institute are preparing to see even more pediatric patients with long lasting symptoms.
“It’s clear there’s going to be an ongoing need,” said Dr. Bradley Schlaggar, president of Kennedy Krieger. “We will increase resources to be made available to those clinics as the demand increases.”
To meet those needs, Dr. Schlaggar said they created a Pediatric Post-COVID-19 Rehabilitation clinic.
“We have physical medicine and rehabilitation, lots of mental health services, physical therapy, occupational speech language, psychology, the whole compliment so we knew that it would make sense to configure ourselves to be ready,” said Dr. Schlaggar.
Most of the patients they have seen have been over age 12, although they have seen a few children under 12.
“This is consistent with what we know about the initial variants of the virus which were not transmitted as frequently among young children as they were among adults and older adolescents,” said Dr. Amanda Morrow, co-director of the clinic. “It is still too early to know how many children will be diagnosed with long COVID after contracting COVID through the delta variant as many are still in the acute phase of their illness, or recently recovered.”
Right now, there’s no way of knowing which children will develop MIS-C or long COVID.
“Where even with mild symptoms, later on you’re still having lingering problems that affect any one of a number of systems in the body. The risk of long term consequences even with survival is so significant,” said Dr. Schlaggar.
With steroids and other treatment, Morgan is doing much better but still occasionally has issues walking.
“She seems to be making hopefully a full recovery but every time we ask about the long term, they just say it’s just so new they just don’t know yet,” said Lauren.
Because of that, she’s turning her scary experience into a positive, working to convince a bucket list of people to get vaccinated to protect those who are vulnerable, like her and her sister.
“I think it’s just really important now because MIS-C’s coming up and COVID’s just bad. So I’m doing this because I want people to get the vaccine. I already convinced one of my family members,” said Morgan.
“We always have felt very strongly about the vaccines and as soon as they’re eligible we do getting both of these guys. Now hers has to be delayed due to the treatment she had so it’s like now she’s even more vulnerable,” said Lauren.
FDA Emergency Use Authorization is expected for the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-12 by the end of October.