A North Vancouver family has had their biggest Christmas wish fulfilled this week – to be home healthy together – after their 10-year-old daughter spent the past 10 days in hospital, fighting symptoms of a rare post-COVID-19 inflammatory syndrome.
Tara Rondeau, mom to 10-year-old Jillian, said her daughter has been incredibly brave throughout the ordeal, thanks to support from both the community and staff from BC Children’s Hospital.
On Monday, Jillian was released from hospital and is now recovering at home, able to finally hang out with her brother and sister.
But her mom says there have been some scary steps along the way.
Rondeau said she wants people to know that complications of COVID-19 don’t just happen to the elderly – her daughter is one such example.
“This is a rollercoaster ride I would not wish on anyone,” she wrote in a message last week shared on social media. “It’s been challenging to share what was happening when even the doctors don’t really know what to expect or how to treat this virus yet. ... It’s just been really hard.”
Rondeau told the North Shore News in an email interview that their family’s medical drama began at the beginning of November, when they got a letter from Lynnmour Elementary in North Vancouver, saying Jillian may have been exposed to COVID-19 at school in her Grade 5 class. That was quickly followed by a call from a contract tracer, identifying Jillian as a close contact.
Tara and her three children – Jillian, plus her 11-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother had all been feeling “a bit run down,” said Rondeau, and went to get tested right away. Soon those came back – both girls tested negative while Rondeau herself had tested positive and her son’s result was deemed “inconclusive.”
Rondeau said she doesn’t know how they were exposed, as they had been keeping their social contacts to a small “bubble” and taking precautions, “but apparently we were.”
Soon after, her husband Jean-Marc woke up feeling unwell. He also tested positive.
At that point, noticing her kids had runny noses and were complaining of stomach ache, Tara and her husband pushed to get them re-tested for COVID-19. This time both Jillian and her brother tested positive.
Her kids sailed through the first round of the virus relatively unscathed, with minimal symptoms, said Rondeau. Her husband felt like he had a bad cold, while she herself was the hardest hit, with fever, chills, nausea and full body aches.
By early December, Rondeau was still feeling crummy. It was a few days later that Jillian started feeling some of the same symptoms. By Dec. 10, as they tried unsuccessfully get through on 811, Jillian’s fever became concerningly high. Tylenol, Advil and cool baths didn’t budge it. They called their family doctor who sent them to Lions Gate Hospital right away.
While they waited for results of chest X-rays in hospital, Jillian’s condition seemed to rapidly get worse, said her mom. Suddenly Jillian was flushed, feverish, vomiting and fading in and out of consciousness.
Doctors told her the symptoms were consistent with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (or MIS-C) – a post-COVID-19 inflammatory response to the virus that has been reported in some children around the world following seeming recovery from the virus.
They spent a night at Lions Gate, then were sent to BC Children’s Hospital for further testing, where doctors there confirmed initial suspicions of MIS-C.
Jillian was admitted to acute care and put on a drip of intravenous immune globulin, a standard treatment for the still-emerging syndrome. The first concern was possible inflammation of her daughter’s heart, said Rondeau, followed by concern about her liver. “The inflammation in her body moved around a lot,” she said, and Jillian’s fever – accompanied by a rash – came and went. Sometimes things looked like they were getting better, and then the inflammation would suddenly take hold again.
“There’s much unknown about this virus. It seems to go through the organs causing inflammation and the doctors can only treat things as they happen,” she said.
In the last few days in hospital, thankfully Jillian's bloodwork improved and she was allowed to go home. The family still has to watch for signs of fever, however, which would mean a trip back to hospital.
“We are just staying positive and hopeful,” said Rondeau.
During the hospital stay, both Tara and her husband Jean-Marc were allowed to stay with their daughter in her room. They were wore full PPE when outside the room, she said. Doctors and nurses treated Jillian wearing full protective equipment. Jillian’s brother and sister weren't allowed to visit, but kept in touch with daily FaceTime calls. “They are pretty close and this has been hard for them,” said Rondeau. Now Jillian's back home, the siblings are making up for lost time.
The community and staff at the hospital also stepped up to help, she said, with strangers donating two Elf on a Shelfs, which the nurses posed to keep Jillian entertained. Lynnmour Elementary also came through for Jillian’s siblings and sent a Skip the Dishes gift card to the family so there would be one less thing to worry about at a stressful time.
They’ve received cookies, cards and notes from Jillian’s classmates, friends and their tight-knit North Vancouver neighbourhood.
“We are truly overwhelmed with the goodness of our community,” said Rondeau.
Now the family just wants to enjoy their time together at home this Christmas.
Her daughter’s story is a cautionary tale not to let our guard down, says Rondeau – especially as people may be tempted to gather over the holidays.
“This virus presents differently in everyone and I urge families to take every fever or stomach ache or rash or feeling extra tired or any sick-like symptoms seriously in their COVID-recovered children.
“We have chosen to share our story so that parents can have an awareness of this new sickness. Information about it is trickling in slower than the volume of sick children. And to help everyone see that COVID is not just an old person's illness.”
As of Dec. 17, there have been four confirmed cases of MIS-C in B.C., according to the Ministry of Health. An additional 17 children have been investigated for the syndrome, but did not test positive for COVID-19 or for antibodies to the virus.