Local Parent Shares Child’s COVID-19 Experience
Liz Witherspoon and her family, residents of Jamestown, spent most of the summer enjoying regular activities — a summer camp for the kids, spending time with loved ones and other “normal” activities.
Little did she know, as the summer was coming to a close, one of her kids would become incredibly sick with COVID-19.
Witherspoon’s daughter, 12-year-old Lilly, contracted COVID-19 at the end of August, which kicked off a whirlwind of high fevers, increasing illness, emergency room visits and sleepless nights that would lead them to a hospital bed in Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo.
Witherspoon said it has been an incredibly difficult experience for herself, her family and for Lilly — especially since things had appeared to finally be getting back to normal.
“This summer, we really stopped masking, my kids were at camp. It felt like a normal summer,” she said.
However, one morning, Lilly woke up exhausted. Witherspoon chalked it up to possible sun poisoning due to Lilly’s increased outdoor activities. She sent Lilly to her grandmother’s house for the day and headed off to work. However, things quickly took a turn.
“My mom kept texting me saying ‘She says she has a headache,’ ‘She says she doesn’t feel good,'” Witherspoon recounted. “I asked her to take her temperature, and her temperature was immediately 102 degrees. I left the training I was at and went to hang out with her. She wasn’t acting like herself; when she got symptoms, it was like 0 to 60. There was no in-between.”
From that day forward, Lilly’s temperature never dipped below 102 during the eight-day illness.
“The highest that her temperature was was 105.3. It was scary from the very start,” Witherspoon said.
She took Lilly to get tested on a Saturday, and they received positive results on Sunday. However, Witherspoon said she was almost certain before the results that Lilly had COVID.
“Nothing else mimicked every symptom,” she said. “She had the GI symptoms, the fever, the cough, the shortness of breath, she lost her sense of taste and smell. Every single symptom that’s out there they relate to COVID she had. She even had COVID pneumonia.”
Witherspoon said on the Sunday they received the results, they ended up taking Lilly to the emergency room at UPMC Chautauqua after her fever spiked over 104 degrees. She said the doctors explained Lilly would have to “ride this out.”
On Monday, they returned to the emergency room and were later transferred to Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo.
“Her white blood cells and her platelets were so low, they were concerned with all the other symptoms,” Witherspoon said. “It felt like we were aliens because every person that came in had to completely gown up, they had to put on two different masks, they had to put a face shield on, a hair net — every single time. We couldn’t go out of the room at all, even me, I couldn’t go out of the room. It just was such a scary experience. It was so quick.”
‘NO EASY WAY’
Witherspoon said the illness was one of the most intense she’s seen as a mom, which made it difficult to handle.
“There was no easy way to parent through it,” she said. “It really was just shocking, and I don’t think people know that it really can affect kids as much. I thought at one point that this could be really bad. It was just consistent and it was just so scary to watch my kid be consistently sick. I felt like I had a newborn again because I was setting alarms every three hours to wake up and give medicine. One minute she would be at 101, and I would watch her, and she would start to get tired. I would take her temperature and she would be at 104 in 20 minutes.”
Witherspoon said as soon as the medicine started to wear off, Lilly’s fever would spike to 104 or 105 degrees. The unpredictability of the virus and the intensity began to wear on everyone.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t emotionally handle watching my child suffer as much as she was, and I knew I had to seek medical attention,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person that rushes to the emergency room ever. When I went in and she was slumped over and was so lethargic, I felt like no one believed that she was as sick as she was. Finally, someone did believe it, and they were like, ‘Yes, you’re going to Buffalo Children’s tonight.’ Even though we were in a very uncomfortable situation with being in the hospital which is not an ideal situation. … I felt so much better because I could not manage my sick child at home with COVID and it was terrifying.”
When they arrived at Oishei Childrens’ Hospital, Witherspoon said the doctors had to administer around five bags of fluid as Lilly was so dehydrated. Witherspoon said they were told Lilly couldn’t leave the hospital until she could drink on her own and keep the medicine down.
“I remember watching her and you could see her heart beating in her chest when she was so sick,” she said. “I remember just being so concerned, and I feel like no parent should have to go through that if they don’t have to. We really let our guard down, and it’s not over. COVID is not over. It’s also real. That’s something that really bothers me — Lilly was not sick with anything else.
“This was COVID. They tested her for so many other viruses, and the only thing that came back was COVID.”
Witherspoon said she is not trying to debate with anyone regarding vaccines and wants everyone to make their own choices, but pointed out that the adults who were vaccinated did not get sick. The other children in the family did not get sick, but Witherspoon said Lilly was kept isolated from the family to protect them from the illness.
Witherspoon said Lilly could have had the vaccine, as she is 12-years-old, but Witherspoon wasn’t sure she needed it at that time since the COVID-19 situation appeared to be getting better. Also, she said Lilly is very afraid of needles and she didn’t want to put her through anything more than she had to.
“After the hospital stay, she actually wants to get the vaccine,” Witherspoon said. “She dealt with so many needles in the hospital, now she’s not afraid of needles at all.”
While Lilly has improved, doctors are still monitoring her health. She said Lilly is not allowed to participate in gym class and previously could only attend school for part of the day, but has since returned to full-time.
“The doctors didn’t want to send her to school, because they were thinking if she gets a normal cold right now with her immune system being so low, it could really be not great for her,” Witherspoon said. “But, we have to have a healthy mix of what is healthy for our kids’ mental health and the physical side. It’s hard because you want to protect your kids, but you also don’t want to isolate them emotionally and mentally.”
Currently, Witherspoon said she feels like she hasn’t had a chance to breathe.
“Once she was out of quarantine and my son was out of quarantine, I went back to work,” she said. “Now, we have these appointments to schedule with specialists and all of that, and I feel like I’m constantly monitoring her. I feel like I’m just on high alert for COVID and what it could mean. I told my husband that I feel like I’m still in survival mode and I’m constantly being worried about what’s happening next.”
While she remains in fight or flight mode, Witherspoon said her children are doing well.
“The kids are doing great,” she said. “It almost seems like Lilly was just calm throughout the entire thing. She wasn’t happy — she was very sick, but once she found out she had COVID, she didn’t completely freak out.”
‘THERE’S NO RULE BOOK’
Witherspoon said there are a lot of feelings wrapped up in the experience, including those of lack of control, helplessness, and anger.
“I think when I first found out, I think I was mad because I was so sick of parenting through a pandemic,” she said. “There’s no rule book to it, there’s no how to do it. There’s no parenting book on how to parent through a pandemic and I’m angry.
“On one side of things, I want our kids to have the same childhood we did and I want them to play on a playground without a mask on and I want them to be in a classroom and interact with their friends and give hugs and high fives. But on the other side of things, you have the possibility of people ending up really sick, and that’s where we’re at.”
Witherspoon said she hopes no one else has to go through the same experience with their children.
“I don’t ever want anyone to look at their child with oxygen going into their nose and to know that you could’ve prevented it somehow,” she said. “That’s what I think about — I deal with guilt looking at her and thinking to myself ‘Could I have prevented this?”
Witherspoon said seeing people post on social media about “unmasking” tends to cause her some anxiety.
“Granted, I want our kids to not wear masks, but I don’t think with our cases being so high and with the kids now being affected the way that they are, I don’t necessarily think it’s time,” she said. “I might get a lot of flak for that, but being the parent of a 12-year-old who just had COVID so bad she ended up in a children’s hospital, I can’t say that I’m for unmasking right now.”
Witherspoon said using caution when it comes to COVID-19 is smart, but not to overdo it.
“I think it’s about finding a middle ground in this unfair environment,” Witherspoon added. “It feels unfair to parent through this, it feels unfair to go through it when you don’t have sick kids, but it feels even more unfair to go through it when you do have a sick kid. It feels unfair regardless of where you’re at and I hope no one ever has to feel the unfairness that comes about when you have a very sick child.”
128 NEW CASES, 2 DEATHS REPORTED
There are 128 new cases of COVID-19 and two related deaths, according to the most recent numbers from the Chautauqua County Health Department.
On Thursday, the department reported, there were 466 active cases, 36 hospitalizations — up one from Wednesday — and 1,192 in quarantine. In addition, the seven-day positivity rate was lower at 7.9%. Thirty-eight of the new cases were in Jamestown with 25 in Dunkirk, 10 in Falconer and eight in Silver Creek.
Thirty-three of the cases involve those under 19. Overall, there have been 11,604 cases, 10,959 recoveries and 179 deaths.