Johns Hopkins University: Young ‘Social Butterfly’ Takes on Life-threatening COVID-19 Complication and Wins

When 8-year-old Morgan Deitz, known for her “spunky” and “social” personality, came down with COVID-19 in late July 2021, the symptoms were no more than your average cold. “She was a little fatigued, had a runny nose and her throat was a little sore,” her mom, Lauren Deitz, recalls of the symptoms that lasted about two days. Once Morgan recovered, her family thought they were in the clear. “We quarantined for the recommended time, and then life continued as normal,” Deitz says. But nearly one month later, everything changed. Morgan came down with a fever and had stomach pains, extreme fatigue, soreness and a rash on her hands. “We didn’t think she had COVID-19 since she just had it,” Deitz says.

The family rushed to the pediatric emergency department at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “That’s when the nightmare began,” Deitz says. Morgan’s heart rate was “sky high,” her blood pressure was low, and she started developing other symptoms: bloodshot eyes, cracked lips and a rash now on her feet. The care team at the Children’s Center recognized the tell-tale signs of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

MIS-C is a serious health condition that causes inflammation in parts of the body, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, which can, in some cases, begin to shut down these vital organs. Experts are researching the exact cause of MIS-C, but many children with MIS-C are previously diagnosed with COVID-19 a few weeks prior to the onset of MIS-C symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been nearly 5,000 cases of MIS-C and more than 40 deaths in the U.S. since May 2020.

“As the number of COVID-19 cases peak, we often see children and adolescents develop MIS-C following these peaks, like we saw in the winter of 2020/2021 and are continuing to see with this summer’s peak,” says Meghan Bernier, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and medical director of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Bernier cared for Morgan while in the hospital.

After Morgan’s care team stabilized her, she was taken to the PICU. That night Morgan’s fever spiked to 104 degrees and became increasingly sore and lethargic. “She took a turn for the worse so quickly,” Deitz says. “Thank goodness we were in the hospital.” Morgan was placed on immunoglobulin therapy to fight MIS-C, as well as a steroid regimen, which improved Morgan’s condition. However, two days later her heart rate jumped again, her blood pressure dropped, and she developed another fever. She was given oxygen, fluids and further medication, which helped stabilize Morgan. Then, the same thing happened two days later. After a third round of high-dose steroids, Morgan’s condition improved again — this time permanently. She left the hospital after ten days. “She was sad to leave, because she was going to miss Disney trivia,” Deitz says of an activity for pediatric patients coordinated by the Child Life team.

“MIS-C is still a new condition,” says pediatric rheumatologist Julia Shalen, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics in the school of medicine, who is among a team of physicians providing post-hospital care to Morgan. “We have an MIS-C algorithm that provides guidelines, and then we work to figure out the best treatment plan for each individual child.”

After receiving the green light from her doctors, Morgan, who was sad to miss the first day of school due to her hospitalization, started school a few days later, Deitz says Morgan now gets tired easily. She had been playing soccer and won’t be able to finish out the season, participate in gym or do aerobic activities just yet, but Deitz says Morgan still “feels great.”

“Morgan is a healthy kid who got COVID, and then got a bad complication of that,” Shalen says. “It speaks to the importance of community efforts to protect our unvaccinated population against COVID-19. This family did everything they should be doing, and unfortunately still had to deal with a very serious consequence.”

Deitz urges families to take precautions against COVID-19, including wearing face masks and getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they can. She says Morgan will get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as she is able to do so to ensure they don’t go through the same experience again.

“You always hear people say you never think it would happen to them,” Deitz says. “COVID-19 does affect children. Something like this can happen.”

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