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‘It’s a nightmare’: 5-year-old boy among Scottsbluff-area children hospitalized with mysterious inflammatory syndrome tied to COVID-19
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‘It’s a nightmare’: 5-year-old boy among Scottsbluff-area children hospitalized with mysterious inflammatory syndrome tied to COVID-19

Multiple Scotts Bluff County children hospitalized in recent weeks with MIS-C

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When 5-year-old Brody Sinks began feeling ill over the weekend, at first, his mother, Megan Sinks, had been concerned. However, she attributed his symptoms to the stomach flu.

Now Brody is hospitalized with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but serious inflammatory condition affecting children who have contracted coronavirus.

“We’ve all had the stomach flu,” she said, saying she had not known about MIS-C and its symptoms before her son became ill. “It just quickly progressed from there without missing a beat. It was fast.”

Symptoms began with flu-like symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and a fever, which initially could be broken by giving the boy Tylenol. However, she said, her son began to complain about abdominal pain and his fever became more severe. By Sunday, he had a rash that covered his body and complained of joint pain so severe he could not walk.

Sinks reached out to the emergency room doctors, being given advice to care for him at home and to take him to his doctor on Monday morning. She took Brody to his regular doctor, as advised.

“The minute she saw him, she sent me to the emergency room,” she said.

Unknown exposure

Brody was transported to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver by ambulance within hours.

“He’s had a fever up to 105 degrees for an entire night,” she said Wednesday, saying it’s been frightening. “Now, we have the fever under control, but the medications and the inflammation in his body is causing hallucinations.”

On Tuesday night, Sinks said, she stayed up with her son as he experienced hallucinations and will meet with a neurologist.

“It’s a nightmare,” Sinks said. “I want every parent out there to be warned because their child doesn’t have to show symptoms (of COVID-19) for them to be sick.”

The boy was tested for COVID-19 when he went to the Scottsbluff hospital, but the rapid test he was given came back negative for COVID-19. It was not until Brody was tested for antibodies that his mother learned he had contracted the virus.

“He never showed any symptoms. He was asymptomatic,” she said. “We don’t know how this happened.”

Sinks said she has been racking her brain to think how Brody, who is not attending school because his mother had delayed enrolling him this year due to the pandemic, contracted COVID-19. Sinks said doctors told her symptoms of MIS-C present about 30 days after a child has had COVID.

She attends classes for her education and her husband also works. Neither one of them had the virus, that they know of, and they are not aware of anyone they have been around who had the virus. Brody has also played with other children, like those in the neighborhood and her own nieces and nephews.

Not the only one

Most concerning to Sinks is that multiple children from Scotts Bluff County have been diagnosed and hospitalized with MIS-C. Mari Abrams, marketing director at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center, said she could confirm that the hospital has treated multiple patients from Nebraska diagnosed with the inflammatory syndrome.

Sinks said doctors told her five other children have been hospitalized from Scotts Bluff County with the condition, which can be deadly. She has talked to some of the parents with children who are hospitalized in the same area. Through social media posts online, the Star-Herald has been able to confirm two other children who are or have received treatment in Colorado for MIS-C.

As of Dec. 4, the CDC reports 1,288 cases have been reported in the United States, with 23 deaths among children associated with MIS-C. The accuracy of the data regarding cases is not clear, as Nebraska is reported to have only had “1-10” cases, according to the map.

The Star-Herald reached out to Panhandle Public Health Director Kim Engel, who said that cases had not been reported to the local health department.

One of the other cases involves 8-year-old Tre Heil, also hospitalized this week. Like Brody, his dad, John Heil said Tre didn’t show any signs of having contracted COVID-19. John had the virus in mid-November and his girlfriend and Tre’s mom, Chelsy Sanchez, Tre and their youngest son, Dax, quarantined for two weeks.

“(Tre) showed zero symptoms until Wednesday,” he said.

However, on Wednesday, the boy started suffering a fever and he was treated at a local physician’s office, but advised to go home and treat the fever and symptoms with Tylenol and ibuprofen. Heil said that as the fever continued and his symptoms worsened, his parents took him to the emergency room where a spinal tap was performed before he was transported Sunday to Rocky Mountain Children’s Hospital.

“Within hours, he was on a plane with his mom for their first flight ever,” Heil said.

Both rapid tests done on the boy returned a negative result for COVID-19, Heil said. An antibody test performed in Denver showed antibodies for COVID-19.

It’s not known why some children develop MIS-C. In May, the CDC issued a health advisory about MIS-C, after children began presenting with the severe inflammatory syndrome that has Kawasaki disease-like features. However, because of the rarity of the disease, it’s not a warning that seemed to cause a lot of concern among parents in the Midwest, where recommendations to take precautions against COVID-19 have been met with skepticism by some.

Virus affects children

Sinks said she has seen many people blow off COVID-19, calling it a hoax or doubting its severity. She said she herself “didn’t know what to think about COVID” and how serious the virus could be, though she took steps like keeping her son from home during the pandemic. Now, she said, she is more concerned about it than ever, especially when it comes to children in school settings.

“People keep saying this virus doesn’t affect children,” she said. “Wrong. Wrong. It does. We should be more worried about them than even ourselves because they don’t even have to show a symptom.”

Once Brody recovers enough to be able to be released from the hospital, Sinks said, doctors advise that he’ll need to return for monitoring as its unknown what the long-term health effects can have on organs such as the heart and kidneys that are affected by the inflammatory syndrome.

Engel told the Star-Herald she had been unaware of the cases until contacted by the newspaper. Once patients are transferred out of the area, she said, the public health department is not notified of their conditions or treatment. Engel said she was surprised to hear of so many MIS-C cases tied to the area.

“This is concerning,” she said, saying that she urged parents to take preventative measures to protect their children from contracting COVID-19. Measures that have been recommended by health officials include wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing and avoiding gatherings. Officials have even encouraged parents to shop without their children during the pandemic.

The Star-Herald has also reached out to Rocky Mountain Children’s Hospital and will interview one of its physicians about MIS-C for an upcoming story.

Impacted financially

The Sinks and Heil families have both been impacted financially due to their children’s hospitalizations.

Sinks said family members are helping care for animals on the family’s farm, but they did not have funds for an emergency hospitalization. She and her husband, Justin, have been joined in Colorado by her mother, so they have been unable to stay in Ronald McDonald housing that would normally be available. With meals and hotels being expensive, she said, she and her husband have been alternating sleeping in their truck during their son’s hospitalization.

Her family has been overwhelmed as it is unknown how long Brody will be hospitalized. Initial indications were that he would be in the hospital until at least Sunday.

The Sinks family has set up a GoFundMe: https://gf.me/u/zcyr4p. An account for Megan Sinks has also been set up at Platte Valley Bank. Sinks can be reached via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/megan.l.sinks

John Heil said doctors indicated Wednesday Tre could be in the hospital for another 10 days, after already being in the hospital for four days. He and Chelsy Sanchez are unable to work at this time, and without comp time or vacation time, the family is financially affected. Heil has posted fundraisers on his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/jh.rockettv/ and can be contacted on that page.

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