Delta spike haunts local family

A local mother worries her son will be infected by COVID-19 again, after he nearly died from MIS-C in February. The rare disease affects children who have had COVID-19. Now that students are returning to school, she's afraid of an increased risk of infection.

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August 26, 2021 - 9:49 AM

Connor McCullough now. He wants to attend a school board meeting to share his experience with COVID-19 and MIS-C, in hopes of convincing board members to adopt a mask mandate. Courtesy photo

Jessica Tanner worries her son will be infected by COVID-19 again.

He barely survived the first time.

Connor McCullough, age 12, was diagnosed with the coronavirus in late January. 

A healthy boy with no underlying issues, Connor almost died from contracting COVID when a few weeks after he became infected, it triggered a rare disease known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

Connor McCullough, age 11, of Iola, was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital in February for MIS-C, an inflammatory illness that affects children who have had COVID-19. Courtesy photo

It’s not known why some children become ill with MIS-C, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99% of MIS-C cases tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19; the other 1% had been around someone who tested positive.

Nationally, 4,400 children have contracted MIS-C; 37 have died.

Kansas has reported 18 cases.

Connor was one of them. His condition deteriorated to the point where he experienced cardiac distress and nearly died, his mother said. 

His heart was damaged, forever changing his health. 

Connor has been unable to return to school and his activities are severely restricted out of concern that he might get re-infected. Though much is unknown about MIS-C because it is so rare, doctors warned his mother that if he gets COVID again, he’s more likely to have another MIS-C episode.

And now that students are returning to classes, his mother Tanner is worried for the health and safety of her own children as well as others. Two of her four children are attending public schools in Iola. Tanner said she is disappointed by the school board’s recent decision not to require face masks.

“Someone needs to speak up for these children. We are their protectors,” she said.

“I wish parents would be real about this. I wish the school would be real about this. They may think they’re taking it seriously, and maybe some of them or their kids had COVID and they were fine. But everybody needs to do better.”

Connor McCullough, age 11, of Iola, was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital in February for MIS-C, an inflammatory illness that affects children who have had COVID-19. Courtesy photo

BEFORE COVID, Connor was a typically healthy and active boy. Even during his initial illness, he experienced only mild symptoms.

But four weeks later, his temperature spiked as high as 105. He was hospitalized and within 12 hours was in respiratory distress. 

Though he was able to return home, his heart was damaged by the disease. Doctors described it to his mother as “a scar on his heart.” Tests have shown his heart is operating on the lower end of the spectrum of what is considered normal.

“He’s going to have to see a cardiologist for the rest of his life. They don’t know if he’ll have a normal life,” Tanner said.

At his most recent appointment, Connor was given the go-ahead to mow lawns with his uncle, which is something he very much enjoys. 

Still, he tires easily and after such activities he needs to rest.

After his hospitalization at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Connor returned to in-person classes in Humboldt. But his recovery was difficult, and he was unable to remain in school. 

“His body went through a traumatic event. He’s still healing,” Tanner said.

Connor was approved to attend a new virtual education program offered by Greenbush. Two of his siblings, though, were not approved for the program and are required to attend in-person classes.

They wear masks in school, their mother said, but they are among the few who do and “get picked on” for wearing them.

The delta variant also concerns the family. 

The variant is now the dominant coronavirus in Kansas. It tends to be more contagious and affects younger people more often than other types of the virus. Those who have been vaccinated tend to have less severe illness; however, those who have been vaccinated can still spread the virus but tend to be infectious for a shorter period of time than the unvaccinated.

Allen County currently has 59 active COVID-19 cases, and 1,536 cases with 21 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

THE FAMILY is “a house divided” when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, Tanner said.

She received the first dose of the vaccine but had a strong allergic reaction and did not get the second shot. She is studying nursing at Neosho Community College, and completed her clinical rotation at Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.

She supports vaccination, and also encourages people to take whatever steps they can to protect themselves and others. That includes wearing face masks and social distancing. 

Doctors recommended Connor not receive the vaccine over concerns of side effects because of the damage to his heart. His oldest sister, who also contracted COVID at the same time as Connor, also has health conditions but wants to see if she can get the vaccine. 

Of his other two siblings, one is eligible but reluctant to get the vaccine. The other wants it, but is too young.

Tanner’s husband is not vaccinated. 

The family takes precautions such as limiting interactions with others and wearing facemasks in public places. 

The restrictions are difficult for Connor, she said, and sometimes he gets upset. She does her best to help him understand the need for protection.

“We just have to make sure we don’t get COVID,” she said. “We can’t go through that again. It’s terrifying.”

Connor plans to attend the next USD 257 board meeting on Sept. 13 to share his experience in hopes of convincing members to adopt a mask mandate.

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