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Why doctors keep monitoring kids who recover from mysterious COVID-linked illness


 

For a Pennsylvania teen, the MIS-C diagnosis came much later

Not every child who develops MIS-C tests positive for the coronavirus, though many will test positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, indicating they had been infected previously. That was the case with Andrew Lis, a boy from Pennsylvania who was the first MIS-C patient seen at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

Andrew had been a healthy 14-year-old boy before he got sick. He and his twin brother love sports and video games. He said the first symptom was a bad headache. He developed a fever the next day, then constipation and intense stomach pain.

“It was terrible,” Andrew said. “It was unbearable. I couldn’t really move a lot.”

His mother, Ingrid Lis, said they were thinking appendicitis, not coronavirus, at first. In fact, she hesitated to take Andrew to the hospital, for fear of exposing him to the virus. But after Andrew stopped eating because of his headache and stomach discomfort, “I knew I couldn’t keep him home anymore,” Mrs. Lis said.

Andrew was admitted to the hospital April 12, but that was before reports of the mysterious syndrome had started trickling out of Europe.

Over about 5 days in the pediatric ICU, Andrew’s condition deteriorated rapidly, as doctors struggled to figure out what was wrong. Puzzled, they tried treatments for scarlet fever, strep throat, and toxic shock syndrome. Andrew’s body broke out in rashes, then his heart began failing and he was put on a ventilator. Andrew’s father, Ed Lis, said doctors told the family to brace for the worst: “We’ve got a healthy kid who a few days ago was just having these sort of strange symptoms. And now they’re telling us that we could lose him.”

Though Andrew’s symptoms were atypical for Kawasaki disease, doctors decided to give him the standard treatment for that condition – administering intravenous immunoglobulin, the same treatment Israel Shippy received.

“Within the 24 hours of the infusion, he was a different person,” Mrs. Lis said. Andrew was removed from the ventilator, and his appetite eventually returned. “That’s when we knew that we had turned that corner.”

It wasn’t until after Andrew’s discharge that his doctors learned about MIS-C from colleagues in Europe. They recommended the whole family be tested for antibodies to the coronavirus. Although Andrew tested positive, the rest of the family – both parents, Andrew’s twin brother and two older siblings – all tested negative. Andrew’s mother is still not sure how he was exposed since the family had been observing a strict lockdown since mid-March. Both she and her husband were working remotely from home, and she says they all wore masks and were conscientious about hand-washing when they ventured out for groceries. She thinks Andrew must have been exposed at least a month before his illness began.

And she’s puzzled why the rest of her close-knit family wasn’t infected as well. “We are a Latino family,” Mrs. Lis said. “We are very used to being together, clustering in the same room.” Even when Andrew was sick, she says, all six of them huddled in his bedroom to comfort him.

Meanwhile, Andrew has made a quick recovery. Not long after his discharge in April, he turned 15 and resumed an exercise routine involving running, push-ups, and sit-ups. A few weeks later, an ECG showed Andrew’s heart was “perfect,” Mr. Lis said. Still, doctors have asked Andrew to follow up with a cardiologist every 3 months.

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