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In what doctors say is one of the rarest cases ever seen, the virus sparked a devastating spiral of conditions on eight-month-old Elijah Kay-Haigh.
From developing a sudden high temperature the “wonderfully happy, inquisitive, alert” baby was left at death’s door with his parents being repeatedly warned to “expect the worst”.
Elijah now needs 24-hour care with medics “unclear” as to what the long-term prognosis will be for his devastated parents Chris and Abigail.
Abigail, 38, said: “We want people to know that Covid is not over. What has happened to Elijah is like the worst kind of horror movie and an illustration of what this terrible virus can do.”
“We now cannot leave Elijah alone at all. We have had to be trained to operate all his medical equipment – it’s pretty complex – and so we cannot even ask grandparents or aunts and uncles to look after him for an hour while we pop out for some respite. One of us has to be with him all the time.”
Dad Chris, 34, was made redundant from his role as a smart meter installation engineer during the pandemic, when they energy firm he was working for went bust.
He is desperate to return to work but his son’s critical health needs make that impossible.
The family’s ordeal began last November when the couple and their two older children tested positive for Covid.
Elijah then developed a temperature which rocketed to 40.7C and after five days a GP advised taking him to A&E at Leeds Children’s Hospital.
He was discharged but three days later was rushed back in as his condition rapidly deteriorated.
Doctors carried out numerous tests including for meningitis but each came back negative.
As distraught Abigail sobbed: “Is my baby going to die?” a nurse attempted to reassure her by insisting: “It’s only Covid”.
Doctors said they were going to put Elijah into an induced coma for two hours but instead he remained ‘asleep’ for five and a half weeks.
During the horrific ordeal Chris and Abigail, from Horsforth, concerta osmosis Leeds, had to endure the difficulties of both still testing positive for Covid with hospital staff ensuring they were kept isolated.
Chris added: “Seeing your baby suddenly surrounded by banks of machines that are keeping him alive is just surreal. Because he wasn’t moving at all we just watched the monitors waiting for any sign of change.”
The couple say the day Elijah was woken from his coma was “the saddest, happiest day of our lives”.
Abigail, a former teaching assistant who is currently pregnant, added: “There were a number of occasions we were called and told to ‘get here now’ because the doctors did not think he was going to make it. It has been like the worst kind of horror movie.”
Alongside his failing lungs and brain damage, Elijah has also suffered sight-loss and has seizures but he is too young for specialists to fully determine the full extent of his disabilities.
Chris added: “Despite all his problems he still has such a lovely personality. Before this happened he was such a happy baby, he was on the verge of walking, he was zooming around on his walker.”
“We were not worried about catching Covid before this. Obviously, we took precautions, but the older children are at school so it was kind of inevitable we would catch it. But all the information was that it was highly unlikely to affect children, and I guess that is still the case. Elijah has just been desperately unlucky.”
Abigail added: “Even now if you are a parent and you have any doubts take your child to hospital. Don’t delay.”
Dr David Finn, ICU Consultant at Leeds Children’s Hospital, described Elijah’s case as “incredibly rare” and said due to his young age the final prognosis would remain unclear for a number of years.
He said: “This was the first case of its kind that we’d had. Elijah was very, very sick and he spent a long time in intensive care. It was only through the hospital’s excellent team work that we were able to offer absolutely everything to save his life.”
Dr Finn said further research will be needed to ascertain the exact reason why Elijah fell so ill and the precise role Covid played in his illness.
He said: “It’s impossible to say at this stage that Covid caused the brain damage – some children that become very sick and end up in intensive care for an extended period of time can come out of ICU absolutely fine, but others come out with a degree of long-term damage.”
“We are satisfied Covid is the reason he ended up in hospital and became very sick but it’s the consequences of being sick for a very long time – particularly when you are struggling with organs such as the lungs and struggling to get oxygen in – that can lead to brain damage.”
“We don’t really still know what Covid does in full. What that does to a young child we still don’t have the numbers to know the full extent. With Elijah’s case it will only be over time that we get a fuller picture.”
Despite Elijah’s extreme reaction Dr Finn remains keen to emphasise that for the overwhelming majority of children Covid will represent a mild illness.
He said: “Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children in the country have now had Covid and yet those being affected like Elijah are just so incredibly rare. The overwhelming message is that children are generally fine with Covid. We don’t see cases like this come around very often at all.”
“At Leeds Children’s Hospital we can offer absolutely everything to keep a seriously sick child alive and due to this Elijah achieved the best outcome that was possible.”
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