A child so sick they feared the worst, now they urge change
MONTPELIER, Idaho (AP) - Kale Wuthrich watched doctors surrounding his son in the emergency room, giving him fluids through IV tubes, performing a series of tests, and trying to stabilize him. He was enveloped in the confusion and fear that had built up since he was 12 when he suddenly fell ill weeks after having had a mild coronavirus attack.
"He was very close to not making it at this point, and basically they were telling me to sit in the corner and pray," said Wuthrich. "And I did."
Shortly after Thanksgiving, the boy from a remote Idaho valley became one of hundreds of children in the United States diagnosed with a rare, extreme immune response to COVID-19, known as childhood multisystem inflammatory syndrome. Cooper Wuthrich's fever rose when his joints and organs, including his heart, became infected and put his life in danger, his father said.
“Cooper had it in every organ, in his joints; His feet were as big as mine, his poor eyes were red, torn out of his head and very sluggish, very scared, "said Kale Wuthrich." Cooper would never complain of pain, but that's all he could do, I told myself how badly he was hurt. "
After days in the hospital, Cooper is back home. But the kid, who loves tobogganing and skiing, spent much of the following days on the couch in the truck stop lounge in Montpelier, Idaho, which his parents partly own. A short walk left a bloody nose and he is still on medication that requires injections twice a day.
For Cooper's parents, his illness deepened their commitment to wearing masks and pushing others to do so, though the rebound can be intense in conservative Idaho. Hundreds of people have protested mask requests for months, and even forced a Boise health officer to rush home fearing for their child this month when protesters fired a sound clip of gunshots on their doorstep.
Resistance to restrictions is strong even as coronavirus patients fill Idaho hospitals. Governor Brad Little warned that if the beds run out, victims of a car accident may need treatment in hospital conference rooms. He has encouraged people to wear masks but is among a dozen or so governors who have not given a nationwide mandate.
Cooper caught the virus in late October, likely at the school open for one-on-one classes without a mask, said his mother Dani Wuthrich.
"He was grounded and had nowhere else to go but school," she said. "We don't know anywhere else he could have got it except at school."
He recovered in a few days and was back playing basketball after a two-week quarantine.
But as Thanksgiving approached, Cooper called to come home from training, which is unusual for a kid with bottomless energy. His fever rose to over 103 degrees and the medicine his parents gave him didn't help. He vomited; he threw and turned at night.
As the days passed and Cooper's fever refused to break, his parents took him to a local hospital where doctors would run tests to find out what was going on. They saw no improvement and suspected appendicitis. They put him in an ambulance for a three hour white knuckle ride through the mountains to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Cooper is one of about 40 children being treated for inflammatory syndrome at Primary Children, said Dr. Dongngan Truong, a pediatric cardiologist helping with a study on the disease.
"Fortunately, it's a rare complication, but it's a complication that can make children sick pretty quickly," said Truong. "We have to take it seriously because we don't know the long-term effects on the child's body, heart and other organ systems."
An August report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that many children with the condition had serious complications, including inflammation of the heart and kidney damage. Children went to intensive care units nearly two-thirds of the time, and the average stay in the intensive care unit was five days. It found that Hispanic and Black children made up three-quarters of the children with the syndrome.
The root appears to be an immune system disorder that goes into overdrive when exposed to the virus, releasing chemicals that can damage the organs. Symptoms include fever, stomach or neck pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, bloodshot eyes, and tiredness.
Identification can be difficult because some children have COVID-19 symptoms so mild that parents didn't know they had the virus until the inflammatory syndrome occurs, Truong said. It's unclear why some children get the syndrome and others don't. The only way to prevent this from happening is to prevent children from getting the virus with steps like masks and social distancing, she said.
Back in Idaho, the Wuthriches try to convince friends and family to take precautions. On behalf of a hunting friend, Kale Wuthrich made his case for wearing masks by comparing them to the camouflage he put on his face when staking out deer.
They need masks for employees at their truck stop and restaurant, Ranch Hand Trail Stop, where they have worked their way up from doing dishes and serving to part-owners.
But they can't always get customers to wear masks at the outpost along a windswept highway lined with mountains. The pointed roof and white clapboard walls are a haven for truck drivers. Recently, many people passed a cowboy mannequin with an American flag mask placed at the entrance of the restaurant without a face covering.
"We really want you to introduce a mask mandate here in our county," said Dani Wuthrich. But "I don't think that's ever going to happen."
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