Iola boy recovering from rare COVID-related illness

Connor McCullough was hospitalized in February for MIS-C, a rare inflammatory illness that can occur after a child has COVID-19. He's home and recovering, but much is still unknown about the illness.

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March 16, 2021 - 10:07 AM

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

Connor McCullough, age 11, of Iola, felt sick for just one day when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Jan. 22. 

He and his sister both had COVID, with very mild symptoms. That’s pretty typical for children during this pandemic.

But four weeks later, COVID would send Connor to the hospital with a 105-degree fever, inflammation, and respiratory and cardiac distress.

Connor had become one of less than 3,000 U.S. children to develop a rare, serious disease associated with COVID-19.

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

Known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), it’s not known why some children become ill. 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.

Kansas has reported fewer than 25 cases.

“You hear about rare stuff and you don’t think it’s going to happen to you. I want parents to know what to watch for. It happens fast. You think it’s a stomach flu, nausea, vomiting, fever, then their hands and feet turn red. It’s so crazy.”

Jessica Tanner

CONNOR became ill on a Saturday, four weeks after recovering from his brief and mild COVID-19 illness, his mother, Jessica Tanner, reported.

He was visiting his aunt and told her, “I don’t feel good.”

He felt a little warm, so she gave him Tylenol. 

The next day, he developed a slight cough and a fever of 103-degrees. 

Over the next two days, his mother took Connor to two different area hospitals. Both said he likely was dehydrated, and sent him home. 

Connor’s temperature then rose to 105-degrees and he became lethargic and confused. Tanner then took him directly to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City where staff recognized his MIS-C symptoms. 

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

Within 12 hours, he was in respiratory distress. He developed a rash and other conditions, including projectile vomiting. His heart was affected. 

“They said if I had waited one more day, he would have died,” Tanner said. 

A team of 16 doctors treated her son, including some who are studying MIS-C in hopes of learning more about it.

Connor recovered relatively quickly and is now home. He’s being treated by a local physician and is taking numerous medications, including blood thinners which reduce his risk for stroke and blood clots.

MIS-C causes fever, inflammation and severe illness requiring hospitalization, usually with more than two organs affected. 

As of March 1, the CDC has reported 2,671 cases of MIS-C with 33 deaths.

Most cases were between the ages of 1 and 14, with a median age of 9. About 66% of cases occurred in Hispanic or Latino, or Black, non-Hispanic. A majority, 59%, were males. 

Much remains unknown about his illness, including its long-term effects. Doctors warned his mother he could develop an aneurysm. He’ll need to continue to see a cardiologist, rheumatoid specialist and infectious disease control specialist.

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

“He’s got a long road ahead of him,” Tanner said. Even so, “another child might not be so lucky.”

That’s why she’s sharing Connor’s story. Because MIS-C is rare, it wasn’t immediately recognized as a possible explanation for Connor’s illness. 

Tanner hopes other parents will learn from their experience. 

COVID-19 typically doesn’t cause serious illness in children, but it’s important to take it seriously, she said. 

“You hear about rare stuff and you don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” Tanner said. “I want parents to know what to watch for. It happens fast. You think it’s a stomach flu, nausea, vomiting, fever, then their hands and feet turn red. It’s so crazy.”

Connor is feeling better now. He seems to understand the seriousness of his health crisis, his mother said. 

“His train of thought is, ‘I’m alive today.’ You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

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