Teen says inflammatory disorder linked to coronavirus feels like being ‘internally on fire’

Jack McMorrow’s main priority a month ago was finishing up his school year online.

By the end of April, the 14-year-old from the Queens borough of New York City was hospitalized in critical condition due to an inflammatory disease linked to the coronavirus. This disease, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), mainly impacts children.

MIS-C has been deemed a “new threat” by doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.

And although the teen has completely healed and is with his family at home, at its worst, all his organs were inflamed, his veins were collapsing and his heart was failing. He also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“It does feel like your body is internally on fire. It’s an electric type of feeling. It’s a constant strain of pain; as you feel the blood flow through you, you also feel the pain flow through at the same time,” he told Global News.

MIS-C has been found in 24 states in the U.S. and a total of 10 countries so far. Montreal doctors have begun to see some cases, Global News reported on May 6. Reported cases so far have clustered in COVID-19 hot spots, including New York City.

Doctors with the CDC noted in a virtual presentation on May 19 that current MIS-C case studies show the disease emerges around four weeks after a child is first exposed to the coronavirus.

Young people with this illness need immediate medical attention and will likely need hospitalization, the doctors said.

These children, who have a fever, rash, abdominal pain and even enlarged arteries, often never showed symptoms associated with the coronavirus prior to developing MIS-C.

First symptoms for Jack included rash, throat swelling

Symptoms first appeared for Jack in mid-April, when a reddish rash started to appear on his hands, his father John McMorrow told Global News. Their family thought Jack was overusing hand sanitizer during the pandemic, McMorrow said.

A few days later, Jack had a fever and was given an antibiotic by his pediatrician for a possible bacterial infection. Then his condition started to decline, and he woke up four days later with a fever of 104.7 F, his father said.

“His hands and his feet had rashes on them, and he wasn’t breathing well. He said his chest hurt,” McMorrow said. Through a teleconference with Jack’s doctors again, they believed it might be an allergic reaction to medication he’d been given initially for the rash.

At this point, neither Jack’s family nor his doctors mentioned the coronavirus, as the symptoms didn’t match up with anything they’d heard about the virus so far, he said.

The family then brought Jack to a pediatric clinic where they tested him for the coronavirus and inflammatory issues like mononucleosis, said McMorrow.

Jack was put on steroids and sent home, where his condition seemed to improve, and they believed he must have had some kind of run-of-the-mill infection, his father explained.

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But a day later, Jack’s body seemed to be shutting down.

“He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t move his legs, he couldn’t move his body. He was having a fever, he was having chills. Everything was coming on him,” said McMorrow. “He was in a lot of pain.”

‘It left them spellbound’

McMorrow said he had to carry Jack to the hospital. Doctors immediately hooked up the teen to an IV.

A first round of tests came back that found Jack had tested negative for both the coronavirus and mononucleosis. But what one test did show is that Jack had antibodies for an inflammatory disease.

“Something was going on in his blood… basically complications from some kind of inflammatory disease that they noticed in his bloodwork,” said McMorrow.

Because of his son’s high fever, McMorrow washed him down with ice water for at least 30 hours straight, he said.

“The first 48 to 72 hours was the hardest and worst position I’ve ever found myself as a parent. It sped up and (went) from something normally you can deal with yourself at home to being on life support,” said McMorrow.

Doctors decided to give him steroids to treat an inflammatory disease, and Jack began to stabilize 30 minutes before he was about to be intubated, which is the process of putting a tube down the mouth and airway to assist with breathing.

Though he later had some issues with a low heart rate due to his heart overworking itself, Jack remained in the hospital for a week and was eventually ready to head home.

When Global News called Jack on May 20, he had just finished his schoolwork for the day.

“They released me because I was feeling back to normal for the most part,” he said.

Jack says he encourages parents and children not to overlook any symptoms they are feeling and to get tested. He also stresses the need to visit the hospital, no matter how scary it may seem, as he initially was afraid of being there.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said.

Doctors ‘still learning’ about possible coronavirus symptoms

Canadian doctors are now keeping an eye out for this inflammatory syndrome in children, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said last week.

Tam addressed the illness following an announcement from the Canadian Paediatric Society that it will be looking into this syndrome but are hesitant to make a direct correlation with the coronavirus.

Symptoms for MIS-C are sometimes similar to Kawasaki disease, a rare blood vessel disorder. Doctors have also noticed MIS-C is similar to streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, a disease caused by a toxin that elicits an extreme immune response in the body, which could potentially lead to a coma or death.

The CDC theorizes MIS-C may be the result of a delayed immune response to the coronavirus, as they’ve found many children with it test positive for coronavirus antibodies. Most children with the syndrome have not tested positive for the coronavirus, they note.

“This suggests the illness is mediated by the development of acquired immunity rather than by direct virtual injury,” the report states.

Four children have died in the U.S. due to MIS-C since it was discovered.

Dr. Michael Levin, a professor of pediatrics and international child health in London, England, also spoke during the May 19 presentation on MISC-C and emphasized that parents should bring children to the hospital immediately if they present these symptoms. Most children can go home after a few days if they get to the hospital quickly, he added.

The research out of the U.K. on the inflammatory illness is interesting, but it may be “too early” to be alarmed, as some of these patients did not test positive for the coronavirus, said Dr. Ronald Cohn, president and CEO of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, in a previous Global news report.

“At a time when we are still learning about this new virus that has only been detected in humans over the last few months, it is important to carefully analyze any data we have and put it in an evidence-based context,” he said.

— With files from Laura Hensley

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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