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COVID-19 and children: Rare illnesses surfacing after the virus


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    Las Vegas (KVVU) — Health experts say COVID-19 has far less of an impact on children than adults, but severe cases in youths have been documented across the country and in the Las Vegas Valley.

Harli Hecht, 9, has battled numerous health challenges after COVID-19, including the rare condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2,000 children across the United States have been diagnosed with the syndrome that can cause stomach problems, rashes, swelling, fatigue, respiratory issues and other symptoms.

Doctors are still learning how MIS-C affects multiple organs at once, from the lungs, brain, stomach and skin, all starting after a child contracts COVID-19, reports the Frontiers in Pediatrics Journal.

In June, the novel coronavirus spread through the Hecht family’s household. The young girl’s siblings have long since recovered, but she has continued to suffer a bizarre range of symptoms from drops in oxygen, stomach swelling, fatigue and lethargy, to the onset of seizures.

She now requires oxygen support on a daily basis.

“Every day’s a fight to bring Harli to the next day…she suffers a lot more than any child ever should,” said mother Brandi Hecht.

Hecht’s daughter was diagnosed with Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a tissue disorder, and Chiari Malformation type 1, which affects the brain at the spinal canal. Hecht said other than occasional headaches, her daughter was an active, normal girl prior to COVID-19.

“She was a very active child, singing, dancing. She did cheerleading during P.E. at school. It was hard to get her to sit down. Now Harli basically sits, lays down and sleeps,” Brandi Hecht said.

She gets winded and extremely tired after periods of activity, and according to Dr. Craig Nakamura, her lungs function like someone with asthma in their 50s or older.

Nakamura, a pediatric pulmonologist and associate professor at UNLV, has monitored the effects of COVID-19 on dozens of children across the valley and is Hecht’s doctor.

“You don’t hear about kids as much just because they sometimes have milder symptoms, and a much lower death rate. But [COVID-19] can still really affect them,” Nakamura said.

More than 37,000 children in Nevada have been diagnosed with COVID-19. According to the Southern Nevada Health District, more than 200 children have been hospitalized in Clark County.

Nakamura is usually the specialist contacted by local hospitals once a child has breathing problems.

“We are seeing kids who are at higher risk, but there are also very previously healthy kids who are in the hospital on the ventilator or in an ICU,” Nakamura said.

He said most children who contracted COVID-19 and suffer decreased lung function will eventually return to normal, as their developing brains help cells regenerate.

Nakamura advised parents that cases such as Hecht’s are rare, but can happen. It’s important to practice hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wearing, and give your child the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s finally available.

Hecht’s seizures have progressed to the point where she will require brain surgery in late February.

“All [Harli] wants is for other kids to not be sick like her,” Brandi Hecht said.

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