Barron County (WQOW) - Five-year-olds are tough. Scraped knees, bumps and bruises are just a normal part of their day. And that was the case for Elena until after a battle with COVID-19, she was hospitalized with a rare disease stemming from the virus.
"It's almost like her immune system didn't shut off," said Elena's father, Yan. "It was attacking her internal organs, so they had to figure how to shut that down essentially."
Elena is just one of only 1,000 children in the U.S. with a reported case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children - also known as MIS-C. It's a serious condition that has been linked to COVID-19.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the syndrome can lead to severe problems with vital organs and in rare cases, it could result in permanent damage of even death.
Elena's parents recalled the heartbreaking swelling that happened to their 5-year-old, telling us that her eyes were so swollen that she could barely see out of them.
Her father, Yan said that his daughter is energetic, spunky and always on the go, but seeing her not having any energy to even walk to the bathroom, and having to carry her, broke his heart the most.
The symptoms of MIS-C started showing three-and-a-half weeks after she and the whole family were in the clear following their COVID-19 diagnosis. Each one of them had mild cases.
"Monday before Thanksgiving, she started the fever," said Elena's mother, Tori. "Six at night she was running around, then by 9 p.m. she started to run a fever pretty high."
After a few days without her fever breaking, Elena vomited and her lymph nodes in her neck we swelling. Tori, a nurse, knew in the back of her mind what was happening.
"I didn't really think that this could be it, I was hoping it was not going to be that...but in the back of my mind I just kind of knew that's what it was. There was something that was just telling me that this wasn't normal."
Three days later on Thanksgiving, Elena was admitted to Children's of Minnesota Hospital - St. Paul.
"It was scary, they knew what it was but didn't know how to treat it."
Elena went through a myriad of tests and lab work.
"We felt like we were in a giant science experiment," Tori recalled on their week-long stay in the hospital. "Because they did have recommendations for treatment but it's still like: 'we think this is what is going to work best?'"
After a week-long stay at Children's full of ups and downs, a steroid eventually helped calm Elena's immune system down. She was homeward bound after that, but this doesn't mean they're out of the woods.
"The scary part now is the unknown," Tori said. "Is there going to be long term effects? Was there something genetically that pre-disposed her to this? In the future is she going to have complications from it? We don't know. And with COVID being a year old, it's just so unknown."
Some have compared MIS-C to Kawasaki Disease and while the symptoms of the two are very similiar the biggest difference is MIS-C is more severe and harmful. It also comes after a positive case of COVID-19 or identified COVID-19 antibodies in the child's system. MIS-C was only named spring of 2020.
Here are the signs and symptoms of MIS-C from Mayo Clinic:
- Fever that lasts 24 hours or longer
- Pain in the stomach
- Skin rash
- Feeling unusually tired
- Fast heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Red eyes
- Redness or swelling of the lips and tongue
- Redness or swelling of the hands or feet
- Headache, dizziness or lightheadedness
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Emergency signs include:
- Severe stomach pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- New confusion
- Inability to wake up or stay awake
To follow along with Elena's journey here is a link to her Caring Bridge website.