EAST FLATBUSH, Brooklyn — A family in Brooklyn is counting its blessings after two young brothers, now 8 and 11, survived a life-threatening illness, known as MIS-C, that’s been linked to COVID-19.
The brothers actually got sick nearly a year apart.
Six weeks after the entire family was exposed to the virus in March 2020, Petra John, a pediatric nurse, rushed her youngest son Jaden to the emergency room at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Sunday, May 8, 2020. Then 7, Jaden had a raging fever.
“Mother’s Day,” she said through tears recently. “Extremely high fever of 103.8. It was totally scary.”
They didn’t know it was multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a dangerous illness tied to COVID-19, at first, John said.
“The syndrome was only two weeks old,” she explained.
Jaden remembers how he felt when he got sick in early May.
“I couldn’t get out of my bed,” the boy, now 8, said. “I felt like I got run over by a car.”
His organs were all monitored, his mom said.
“If they didn’t get it under control, his organs could have potentially shut down,” she said.
Jaden was given an experimental treatment called IVIG, and he responded well. His fever broke, yet he needed steroids for several weeks to protect his heart. As the months went by, he developed neurological problems.
Dr. Sanjeev Kothare, director of pediatric neurology at Northwell Health, said Jaden was having some sort of “brain fog.”
“The hypothesis is that COVID releases inflammatory substances. These things can slow the brain,” the doctor added.
Jaden is now back at school, but his mother noticed one of his eyes seems weaker now.
The neurological problems are not uncommon.
A recent study published by Dr. Adrienne Randolph of Boston Children’s Hospital looked at nearly 1,700 children affected by COVID in 31 states. The research found 22 percent of the children developed neurological issues post-infection.
“Children who used to be able to crawl, now not being able to crawl,” Dr. Randolph noted of side effects that happened in some of the babies.
They found around 40 children with very severe complications, including strokes and inflammation of the brain, Dr. Randolph said.
“In rare instances, there were cases of Guillain Barre, a form of paralysis,” Dr. Randolph said. “We don’t know what the long-term effects are in these children.”
Randolph said of 43 patients who had severe complications, “most of them did not have previous neurological problems.”
“It’s clear that there were different parts of the brain being affected at different times,” the doctor added.
Latino and Black children make up about two-thirds of the patients, Dr. Randolph said.
In Brooklyn, just when Petra John thought family life was getting back to normal, her older son, Shamari, started running a high fever in late February 2021.
“I felt weak and pain on my right side,” Shamari, 11, told PIX11, as he gestured to the spot.
He went to New York Presbyterian-Methodist Hospital on a Thursday night.
“They thought it was my appendix and that it wanted to rupture,” Shamari said.
The doctor was planning emergency surgery.
“I heard him say there was something going on with my kidney,” Shamari said.
Jaden and Shamari’s mother said that’s when she heard a familiar diagnosis: MIS-C.
“The syndrome is only a year old, and they have not seen a family that has two children that have the same syndrome,” she said.
Dr. Kothare wondered if there could be a genetic role because two children from the same family were afflicted with MIS-C.
When Shamari John-Gibbs received the IVIG treatment, just as his brother did the year before, he didn’t respond right away.
“My neck was kind of stiff,” Shamari said.
His mother said his stiff neck and light sensitivity indicated meningitis.
Shamari was fortunate, though, because his fever finally broke and he didn’t need to take steroids as long as his younger brother did.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Shamari said, telling us he can move around a lot more now.
He’s doing well in school.
“I want to be a veterinarian,” he said.
As the young brothers sat together on the stoop, they said they wanted to thank all their doctors, and Shamari protectively put his right arm around Jaden’s shoulder.
John feels blessed that her only daughter, Madison, has not been sick–and she had a message for parents whose children may develop high fevers.
“I don’t think you should wait three or four days,” John said. “Because your organs become very compromised under high temperatures.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the hospital Shamari was taken to when he became sick. The story has been corrected to reflect the right hospital where he was treated.