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What Happens When Your Kid Develops MIS-C, A Rare COVID-19 Complication


Minneapolis, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and so many other cities. We'll be bringing you more from the places seeing protests and violence. But first, a story about the other crisis in this country - the pandemic - and how it's impacting children.

The first sign that something was wrong came with stomach pains. It was April 30, and 9-year-old Kyree McBride wasn't feeling well.

TAMMIE HAIRSTON: I thought it was something that he ate, but then it went away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Tammie Hairston, his mom. She and Kyree live in the D.C. area. She's a management and program analyst. And she says, later that Thursday...

HAIRSTON: He had a slight fever, and I gave him Tylenol and didn't think no more of it after the fact because the fever had broke.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it came back. Kyree spent the next day asleep at his dad's house, running a fever of 102. Worried about the coronavirus, Hairston took him to the hospital.

HAIRSTON: It was a quick in and out of the emergency room.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where they told him to take him home and monitor him. The fever, though, didn't break. And in a telemedicine call with Kyree's doctor a few days later, they said to just hang tight. Then the stomach pains came back, stronger this time.

HAIRSTON: He didn't want you to touch his stomach. There was - his stomach was just hurting him really bad. Then he started throwing up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She took him to the doctor in person, got him a coronavirus test. But the result wasn't going to come back for days. At home with Kyree again, she noticed something strange.

HAIRSTON: So by Wednesday night, he started developing a red eye. And I looked at his eyes. It was, like, a real slightness of redness. And, like, most people probably wouldn't have picked it up. But I was just - I just know that his eyes didn't supposed to be - I didn't understand why they were getting red, and it shouldn't. I know my son has allergies, but he's never experienced that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At that point, a friend called her about a new condition she'd seen in the news. It's called multi-inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

HAIRSTON: So I just immediately got up because I got scared. I was like, let me immediately take him to the emergency room. Something is just not right with him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Finally, Kyree was admitted to Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

HAIRSTON: When they admitted him, I really - I cried. I broke down in the hospital because for seven days, I was strong. I was, you know, doing what I supposed to do as a mother. But then when my son saw me broke down, he didn't like it. And so I had to build myself back up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kyree's blood work showed he had some kind of infection, but all his coronavirus tests - the ones at the doctor's office and two at the hospital - come back negative. An antibody test, though, showed that Kyree had been infected at some point with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

HAIRSTON: The antibody test came back positive that he has been in contact with COVID at some point. We just don't know when. No one's been around us. He didn't show anything. We - he hadn't been sick prior to then. They was like, well, maybe he ran a fever, and we just didn't know. And I told the doctor - I was like, well, it could've been before everything shut down. I don't know. It could have been school. I mean, we - at that time, we was going a lot of different places.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The doctors told her they thought he had MIS-C. This past week, we spent a day at Children's National talking with doctors diagnosing and treating MIS-C. The hospital has seen somewhere between 30 and 50 cases of the syndrome. That's only a range because, as the disease is so new, the guidelines from the CDC about what constitutes it are broad. But Kyree's symptoms fit with what they have been seeing.

Dr. Roberta DeBiasi is the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Children's National. She says they've been using a variety of medication to treat the symptoms of the condition, which can mimic another relatively rare inflammatory condition called Kawasaki disease.

ROBERTA DEBIASI: What we're really trying to prevent is injury to the coronary artery, which are medium-sized blood vessels that feed the heart with blood. And in Kawasaki disease, unrelated to COVID, we know that about 25% of children - if we don't give them a medication called IVIG, or intravenous immunoglobulin, we know that about 25% of them will have damage and injury to their coronary artery, which can lead to major problems - myocardial ischemia and heart attacks down the road.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And because MIS-C is believed to be a reaction to a past coronavirus infection and appears to take hold once the child has antibodies, there is something else that worries Dr. Michael Bell. He's chief of critical care at Children's National, and we interviewed him inside the pediatric ICU.

MICHAEL BELL: There may be concerns of who to vaccinate. If kids are going to get a vaccine, it's going to cause antibodies. Looking out for this inflammatory syndrome in the vaccine in children is probably an important thing to look out for. So we're trying our best to study the inflammatory reaction that kids are having.

But I think it does have implications not just for the kids who are - we're seeing now with the disease, but also for - I'm assuming the whole world's going to want a vaccine at some point. And vaccinating a bunch of kids who all get sick with this syndrome would be a problem. So we aren't in any way certain that it's going to happen with the vaccine, but we're - obviously, that's a concern. If it's happening with the antibodies, that's obviously something we're worried about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which is why it's important for any vaccine to be studied extensively. I asked Kyree what all this has been like for him.

Was that scary?


HAIRSTON: Yes, it was.


HAIRSTON: You was scared of all the needles (laughter). He was scared of all the needles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's not very talkative, and he's still tired. After his checkup this past week, the doctors gave him a heart monitor because his heart is now arrhythmic. The doctors at Children's National Hospital emphasized that multi-inflammatory syndrome in children is rare. And there have only been three deaths from the syndrome in the United States so far. But Tammie Hairston is still worried.

HAIRSTON: I'm always, like, feeling his head and making sure he don't have any more fevers and asking him, you know, every hour on the hour, are you OK? Are you feeling OK? Let me feel your head. And I have to tell him every day, like, if - please tell Mommy if something is really bothering you - 'cause I don't want him to feel that, you know, because it was a scared moment for him and he don't want to go back in the hospital that he wouldn't tell me. So I try to keep an eye on him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her advice to other parents - be watchful. And if in doubt, take your child to the hospital. Elsewhere in the program, come with us to the main children's hospital here in D.C., which is seeing a wave of MIS-C cases. It's the first time Children's National Hospital has allowed the media to witness them caring for kids with MIS-C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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