For children with COVID-19, everyday life can be a struggle
For children with COVID-19, everyday life can be a struggle

For children with COVID-19, everyday life can be a struggle

WASHINGTON – Eight-year-old Brooklynn Chile tumbles on the hospital bed while waiting for the nurse at Children’s National Hospital. The white paper under her curls as she switches to look at the medical objects in the room. She has had coronavirus three times and no one can figure out why.

Brooklynn is lucky, so to speak. Each time she has been tested positive, she has not had any obvious symptoms. But her father, Rodney, got the virus when she was positive back in September, and he died of it.

Her mother, Danielle, fears a next fight and fears her daughter could become seriously ill even though she has been vaccinated.

“Every time I think: Should I go through this with her too?” she said, sitting on a plastic chair wedged in the corner. “Is that the moment I lose everyone?”

Among the confusing results of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 6 million people worldwide since it first appeared in 2019, are the symptoms of children.

More than 12.7 million children in the United States alone have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In general, the virus does not affect children as severely as adults.

But as with some adults, there are still bizarre outcomes. Some adolescents suffer from unexplained symptoms long after the virus is gone, what is often called long COVID. Others are re-infected. Some appear to be recovering well, only to later be struck by a mysterious condition that causes severe organ inflammation.

And all that can come beyond grieving over loved ones who have been killed by the virus and other interruptions in a normal childhood.

Doctors at Children’s National and several other hospitals receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health are studying the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children.

The ultimate goal is to evaluate the impact on children’s overall health and development, both physically and mentally – and tease out how their immune system, which is still developing, reacts to the virus to find out why some are doing well, and others do not.

Children’s has about 200 children up to the age of 21 enrolled in the study for three years, and it takes about two new patients each week. The study involves children who have tested positive and those who have not, such as siblings of sick children. Subjects range from having no symptoms to needing life support on intensive care. At their first visit, participants receive a full-day test, including an ultrasound of their heart, blood work, and lung function tests.

Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, who is leading the study, said its main purpose is to define the myriad complications that children can get after COVID-19 and how common these complications are.

Brooklynn is a study subject. The same is true of Alyssa Carpenter, who has had COVID-19 twice and gets strange fever that breaks out unexpectedly and other unusual symptoms. Alyssa was only 2 years old when she started the study and has since become 3. Her feet sometimes turn bright red and sting from pain. Or she will lie down and point her little fingers at her chest and say, “It hurts.”

Her parents, Tara and Tyson Carpenter, have two other daughters, 5-year-old Audrey and 9-year-old Hailey, who are on the autism spectrum. As for many parents, the pandemic has been a nightmare with lack of schooling, unproductive work, restrictions and confusion. But on top of all the anxiety that so many parents feel lies the worry of their little child. They do not know how to help her.

“It was just super frustrating,” says Tara Carpenter, who is quick to add that no one is to blame. “We’re trying to figure out answers for our child and no one could give us any. And it was just really frustrating.”

Alyssa would moan in pain from her red burning feet or whine quietly. She had come down with a fever but had no other symptoms and was sent home from school for days, ruining Carpenter’s work week. But then in ballet lessons, with her pink tights and tutu, she would seem completely normal.

In the last few months, the symptoms have started to subside and this has given the family some relief.

“What do we do about this afterwards?” asks Tara Carpenter. “We do not know. We literally do not know.”

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