Scary COVID-related illness for Houston teen. What doctors want your family to know

HOUSTON – Kids all across Houston are back in class after months of virtual learning. And the good news is, so far, most local school districts are reporting COVID-19 positivity rates of less than one percent.

But doctors urge parents to stay on guard, especially for symptoms that might not seem to be COVID-related.

Now, back on the football field with his friends, you wouldn’t know 13-year-old Mac Barrow was very sick just last month.

“It was pretty scary, I didn’t know what was happening,” Barrow said.

In July, four out of five members of the Barrow family from Spring Branch got COVID-19.

“I had symptoms for a day or two, lost my taste for a few weeks,” said Marc’s father, Hunter Barrow.

“I had a sore throat for a couple of days,” said Marc’s mother, Kara.

Everyone recovered but several weeks later Mac got sick again.

“I just thought he had a stomach bug,” Kara said.

“I started throwing up every time I drank water or ate,” Mac said. “My head would start hurting really bad. I got really tired.”

Family shocked by COVID-19 related complication

Thinking they just needed fluids, the family headed to Texas Children’s Hospital. Then, the family received a shocking diagnosis. Mac had Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome or MIS-C. A rare COVID-19 complication that appears to be only attacking children.

“It was the worst I’ve ever felt,” he said. “Like ever probably ever.”

“Then to be told he was being admitted to the ICU we were in shock,” Kara said. “We were very worried, very worried.”

A team of doctors went to work to help Mac recover.

“MIS-C happens about two to six weeks after COVID diagnosis,” explains Dr. Sara Kristen Sexson Tejtel, Texas Children’s Pediatric Cardiologist.

With it -- organs become inflamed. Abdominal pain like Mac had is common. Other signs include fever, neck pain, rash, or bloodshot eyes. Tests revealed Mac also had heart inflammation.

“As a parent, that’s a scary place to be,” Kara said.

“It’s really very rare that kids get really sick from the heart perspective,” said Dr. Silvana M. Molossi, Texas Children’s Pediatric Cardiologist. “Most of the time they will have mild infections and not necessarily have cardiac symptoms.”

According to the state health department, 54 children across the state, including nine from our region, have been victims of MIS-C.

Special Texas Children’s Hospital Clinic helps with recovery

Mac spent three days in the hospital and was sent home to recover, but he wanted to get back to something he loves - football. So, he was sent to a first-of-its-kind clinic with Texas Children’s Sports Cardiologists and other experts.

“This is to prepare these kids for the most success as they return to school and activities,” Dr. Sexson Tejtel said.

From heart screenings to breathing exercises, doctors ran a slew of tests. Mac’s parents were impressed.

“Despite it being rare and so new, already had that clinic in place and already had a plan in action,” said Kara.

“He is doing very well,” Dr. Molossi said. “His echocardiogram is back to normal.”

“It pretty much feels like I’m back to normal,” Mac agrees.

Now back to playing football on Warrior Field, after winning a battle for his health.

While Mac is considered recovered, just like COVID-19 cases, doctors are not sure about potential long term impact. He will continue getting checkups to watch for any potential problems.

Top questions from parents about COVID-19 and kids

Our team is always working to bring you the latest updates on COVID-19 in our area. We gathered questions related to COVID and MIS-C and asked experts from Texas Children’s Hospital to help us bring you answers.

How do parents know to take their child to the doctor if they are sick?

Dr. Sara Kristen Sexson Tejtel says that two to six weeks after the COVID-19 period of time is the most important time to watch for any unusual symptoms.

“If you are unable to stay hydrated, eat appropriately, drink appropriately, if you are having trouble breathing, chest pain, for sure the kiddos need to be seen,” Dr. Sexson Tejtel said.

What if you never knew your child had COVID (because so many cases are mild) and then they start getting sick with MIS-C?

We’ve heard before that many kids are teens are not even being tested for COVID-19 in all cases. So what if they had it and you didn’t know? Then they developed random symptoms? Doctors from Texas Children’s Hospital said the bottom line is to always be watching your kids for any unusual symptoms.

“There is no-one who knows better your child than you - as a mom or you as a parent,” Dr. Molossi said. “Don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.”

“The most important message really is, if a child has been exposed to COVID and continues to have symptoms, or is different than the way they were before the infection, that might be a good time to discuss with a physician,” Dr. Molossi said.

What have you seen in other kids in our area who have gotten MIS-C?

The state keeps a record of these rare MIS-C cases across the state. We want to stress that these cases are very rare.

“It’s really very rare that kids get really sick from the heart perspective,” Dr. Molossi said. “Most of the time they will have mild infections and not necessarily have cardiac symptoms.”

What can parents do to keep their kids healthy especially as we go into flu season?

“For sure get the flu shot,” Dr. Molossi said. “This changes the way the flu can manifest in terms of clinical symptoms in children.”

Other ways to stay healthy include 8 hours of sleep every night to keep the defense of the body to fight infection, a well-balanced diet, and physical activity is key.

Can a child who is infected with COVID-19 spread it even if they have no symptoms?

The virus spreads easiest when a sick person has symptoms. But it can also spread to others before symptoms start. Remember, it can take 2-14 days after someone is exposed to the virus symptoms to show up. Also, keep in mind, the longer you are together with a sick person, the more likely you are to get sick.

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