When 1-year-old Natalie Green developed a low-grade fever, just breaking 100 degrees, and became cranky, her parents didn't worry too much. Natalie tends to get sick more often than other children and has needed medical care for the flu and the common cold. Her mom, Clara Green, thought teething could be to blame.
“Her whole one year of life, she's been in and out of hospitals because of asthma and because of illnesses,” Green, 34, of Denver, told TODAY. “She's a very sickly kid.”
Then her husband, Beau Green, learned he likely had COVID-19 and they wondered what that meant for their toddler.
“We just told the doctors, ‘Hey we have a 1-year-old who just doesn’t do well with viruses. Is (COVID-19) something we need to worry about?’ And they reassured us, ‘No, she’ll be fine. Kids aren’t affected that we know of,’” Green recalled.
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Natalie’s fever was just slightly elevated and the family treated it with fever reducers and observed her. She didn’t struggle to breath or even cough. But last Wednesday, her fever spiked and she started having febrile seizures (convulsions that occur when a child has a high fever). They called 911 immediately.
“She had five or six seizures, which she never had before, and then she was not responsive after,” Green said.
They informed 911 that they presumed Beau had COVID-19 and the first responders carefully dressed in personal protective equipment before entering the house.
“I felt so bad. My daughter was needing immediate attention and care and they couldn’t even come into our house,” the mom said. "They were really concerned and we were scared.”
At the children's hospital, doctors ran a slew of tests. Because they didn’t have any coronavirus tests, they had to diagnose Natalie through process of elimination, the same way Beau was diagnosed, Green explained.
“They actually rule out a bunch of other stuff. One of the things that they are doing is a chest X-ray to see what your lungs look like,” she said.
Natalie tested negative for other viruses and conditions and doctors presumed she had COVID-19 and was suffering from complications from it, including low oxygen levels (but not low enough to require oxygen or help breathing), Green said. During the testing, Natalie had stabilized and doctors sent her home with instructions on how to care for her.
“You’re actually safer at home,” Green said the doctors had told her.
Natalie didn’t experience any more seizures or have a cough or shortness of breath, but she felt terrible. The 1-year-old was crying a lot because of intense muscle aches that even the fever reducers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen couldn’t ease.
“Miserable isn’t even the word to describe it. It was like absolutely inconsolable miserable crying,” Green explained. “She was just in absolute pain, which was super sad to see. There’s nothing you can do for the body aches and the rundown feeling."
Over the weekend, though, Natalie started improving and returning to her upbeat self.
“She hasn’t had a fever for about two days now, which is great. Her attitude has changed. She’s happy,” Green said.
Beau still feels lethargic, has a “nasty cough,” and shortness of breath. And it’s also still too soon to know if Natalie’s health has completely improved.
“There is a fear. But honestly, the fear is kind of actually more with my husband right now because he really hasn’t shown that he’s getting better,” she said. “I haven’t slept in probably 10 days.”
The family learned that Natalie’s case may represent a first when it comes to children with COVID-19.
“No other child has been reported having a febrile seizure,” Green said she was told.
Doctors suspect that the mom also has COVID-19, but is not as sick as her family. Her 5-year-old son is “completely unaffected, has never broken a fever.” Green shared her experience on Facebook to encourage others to practice social distancing.
“We were taking precautions but we were not those people that locked ourselves in the house immediately,” she said. “How quickly and how fast it hit my family and affected my child was basically my reason for posting that. If I had a message it is that it can happen to you, too. Let’s just be smart.”