A Tennessee family speaks out to share memories of their 7-year-old daughter, who died Feb. 7, less than 72 hours after testing positive for COVID-19.
“She was just a happy, healthy, normal, beautiful soul,” Jennifer Graviss said of her daughter, Adalyn. “She was just so sweet, a wonderful child.”
Jennifer Graviss and her husband Adam Graviss from Knoxville, Tennessee, said Adalyn, whom they described as an active and healthy child, had been well until early in the morning of February 4, when she complained of feeling hot.
When they took her temperature and saw that it was 102 degrees, they said they gave her a COVID-19 test at home where she tested positive.
Adalyn, a second-grader, stayed home from school that day and seemed to be fine, according to her parents. It was not until the following night, they said, that she began to struggle to walk and talk.
“It was just around nine o’clock when we noticed that her speech was almost gone, even though she was still answering us,” Adam Graviss said. “At 10 o’clock I was in the emergency room [with her]and she did not respond at that time. “
“It was just so fast,” he continued. “Hours before she went to the hospital, she was running in the front yard.”
Adalyn was quickly transported to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Vanderbilt, Nashville, where she was put on an ECMO machine, a life-saving device that pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body.
“Even while it was happening, it was not working right,” Adam Graviss said of his daughter’s rapid decline. “Her levels were improving, and then she just took a turn for the worse.”
In addition to a severe case of COVID-19, doctors diagnosed Adalyn with both severe myocarditis, inflammation of the heart and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that can quickly cause neurological damage. according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
ADEM attacks the body quickly and often follows a viral or bacterial infection, according to the NIH.
Amid the rise in the omicron variant in the United States, experts in infectious diseases noticed a pattern of encephalitis or encephalomyelitis after cases of COVID-19, especially among children, according to Dr. Isaac Thomsen, a pediatric expert in infectious diseases who helped take care of Adalyn at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Vanderbilt.
Thomsen said Adalyn’s case of ADEM was one of the fastest and most serious cases he has seen in his career. He said she was also the first pediatric patient he has treated who developed both COVID-related ADEM and severe myocarditis at the same time.
“The combination is probably what ultimately cost her her life,” Thomsen said. “It is quite rare among viruses, this ability of COVID to affect both of these [the heart and the brain] at the same time.”
Adalyn was not yet vaccinated against COVID-19. As a 7-year-old, she had just been eligible for the vaccine in November, and her parents said they were still considering it. The Gravisses said Adalyn was diligent in following COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing a face mask at school and washing her hands.
Jennifer Graviss gave birth to the couple’s second child, a baby named Ella, on January 28, and she said the whole family was quarantined at home outside Adalyn when they went to school in the time before and after the baby was born.
“We were just very careful,” Jennifer Graviss said, adding that Adalyn was paying particular attention. “If a child coughed, she would ask to be moved because she did not want baby Ella to have it.”
Adalyn also had no known underlying health problems that would cause or predict such a serious illness, according to her parents as well as Thomsen.
“This is a big reason why we do not roll the dice on a virus like this,” Thomsen said unpredictably about COVID-19 when it comes to who it affects and how seriously. “This is not something to mess with.”
“The take-away for parents is that this is a virus that we have to take very seriously and that we have a safe and effective vaccine against,” he said.
Children 5 years of age and older are now eligible to receive Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine. Children 12 years of age and older are also eligible to receive a Pfizer vaccine booster shot.
Remember a beloved daughter, big sister
The Gravisses family said they are still shocked that they are now planning funeral arrangements for their beloved daughter, who became Ella’s big sister just a week before her death.
“She was waiting for years to become big sister,” Jennifer Graviss said. “Every night she prayed to God to give her a baby to become big sister, and that’s what we’re so grateful for that she could experience it for five days.”
Jennifer Graviss said Adalyn treated Ella like her own baby doll, dressed her up and woke up 30 minutes extra before school each day so she could have more time to hold her.
“She just wanted to sing for her and she would sit there and tell her stories like, ‘I’ll be your best friend. Sissy is going to show you so much how to dance and how to play basketball, and as soon as you’ are big enough, we’re going to church, “she said of Adalyn.” She just wanted to be with the baby all the time. “
Adam Graviss said he is comforted to know that Ella wants her big sister as her protector, saying, “She makes the coolest guardian angel look over her and protect her.”
The Gravisses said their daughter loved things like playing basketball and dancing, going to church and being with her friends. The family held a celebration of Adalyn’s life last week for her school friends, basketball buddies and other Girl Scouts and dance classmates.
“All her friends are wearing shirts that say ‘Love Like Adalyn,'” Jennifer Graviss said. “She just had the biggest heart. She loved her friends. She hugged teachers who were not even her teacher every morning. She came by [school] office and give an update every day about baby Ella. “
One of Adalyn’s former teachers started a GoFundMe for the family to help cover Adalyn’s medical and funeral expenses.
Jennifer Graviss and her husband said they now find solace in seeing how alive a life Adalyn led, and in knowing that they “do not regret” because of the time and attention they gave their daughter.
“We did everything with her, everything she wanted, from going to Disney World to playing basketball in the driveway in the dark to playing UNO tournaments every night,” Jennifer Graviss said. “She was just a happy girl.”
Jennifer Graviss noted that while Adalyn loved everyone, she had a special fondness for her father.
“She did everything [her] father, “she said, adding that Adalyn encouraged her father to watch YouTube videos to get better at putting her hair in a bun for dance class. cheers on her. They were the best buds.”
“We just would never be without her,” Adam Graviss said. “We wanted people to constantly ask to take care of her and let us go out on a date, but we never did. We just wanted to be with her.”
He continued, “She was just really funny and we just took her everywhere. That’s what makes it so hard. She was our best friend.”