If it wasn’t for the alertness of an emergency room doctor at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, Jaelynn Ward might not have grown to be the healthy, upbeat 6-year-old girl she is today.
In February 2011, Jaelynn had a fever and red eyes. Her mother, Shawna Chatman, thought it was a virus. Doctors gave Jaelynn an antibiotic and eye drops, but it didn’t help.
On other trips to see different doctors, Jaelynn received different diagnoses, including shingles.
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One day, Jaelynn’s grandmother, Jeri Wells, was brushing her long, curly blond hair when she noticed Jaelynn’s neck was swollen.
At Schneck’s emergency room, a doctor overheard Wells listing Jaelynn’s symptoms, and he thought it was Kawasaki disease. That was her fifth different diagnosis.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Another misdiagnosis.’ I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Wells said. “But then it got real, and they started rushing, and they were taking her by ambulance to Riley Hospital (for Children in Indianapolis).”
Neither Wells nor Chatman had heard of the disease.
“I Googled it on my phone once we got there,” Chatman said.
“That’s when it hit us how serious it was,” Wells added. “I never would have dreamed her symptoms were causing heart damage.”
Kawasaki disease is a serious illness characterized by inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. It involves the skin, mouth and lymph nodes and most often affects children under age 5.
The cause is unknown, but if the symptoms are recognized early, kids can fully recover within days, according to the Kawasaki Disease Foundation. But if untreated, it can lead to serious complications that can affect the heart.
The symptoms include a fever lasting at least five days; red eyes; a body rash; swollen, red, cracked lips; swollen tongue with a white coating and big, red bumps; sore, irritated throat; swollen, red feet and hands; and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Once she arrived at Riley, the only symptom Jaelynn didn’t have was a fever. She had dealt with febrile seizures since she was 1, so she took medicine to prevent fevers.
Doctors at Riley took her off the medicine to see if she would develop a fever, and she did. So they immediately began treatment for Kawasaki disease, which included intravenous doses of antibodies and echocardiograms.
Chatman said she learned a person has 14 days to treat the disease. If it’s not caught by Day 10, heart aneurysms could begin. Thankfully, Jaelynn was treated within nine days.
Since she was only 2, Jaelynn said she doesn’t remember a whole lot of what went on at Riley. But one thing still on her mind is playing with toys there. Chatman said a toy cart came around a couple of times a day, and there also was a toy room patients could visit.
“They had it set up to where it was clean toys and dirty toys, and once you touched a toy, you put it in (with the dirty toys), and they’d sanitize it before other kids came back in,” Chatman said.
Following treatment, Jaelynn’s heart was swollen for a while.
“They said the treatment doesn’t reverse it, but since it was swollen and she was still growing, she would just kind of catch up,” Chatman said.
Within six months after her diagnosis, Jaelynn had a couple of seizures when her temperature spiked. On a trip to the emergency room, a doctor was worried Kawasaki disease was coming back because once a person has it, it stays in the body.
But that wasn’t the case.
“The risk of a flareup is even less likely than the actual risk of having (the disease) the first time,” Chatman said. “I think it’s three in every 100,000 kids (diagnosed with the disease), and two of those three are normally Asian boys.”
For a year, Jaelynn went for a checkup every three months. It then dropped down to yearly checkups.
“This past year, her heart echo was fine, so they said no more unless something comes up and we think we need one,” Chatman said.
Now 6 years old and a kindergartner at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, Jaelynn said she feels fine. But she knows she has to be careful during physical activities, and she has to avoid caffeine.
Jaelynn also outgrew the seizures.
But this past October, the family was hit again when Wells had to have a stent put in her heart. She said she had noticed being out of breath walking short distances.
One day, she was outside walking with a friend when she started gasping for air. She went to the doctor, and there were no problems with cholesterol or blood pressure. But the doctor said some perfectly healthy people can have blocked arteries.
After doing a treadmill test for two minutes, the doctor told her she was going into surgery.
“My main artery was 95 percent blocked,” Wells said. “My second main artery was 85 percent blocked but was operating fine with the other stent and still getting blood.”
Wells now takes heart medication and goes to the doctor for checkups.
Despite all the family has been through, they are taking time to help others. With February being American Heart Month, local schools participated in Jump Rope for Heart, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
Jaelynn wound up with more than $200 in online donations, and her family collected more than $50 at their workplaces. Redding’s goal was to collect $1,000.
Wells said after battling through seizures and a heart disease, Jaelynn has expressed interest in becoming a doctor.
“We’ve played doctor, and she’s intense,” Wells said with a smile. “She knows every term, every word.”
The family is OK with Jaelynn’s career choice because it was a doctor that helped save her life four years ago.
“At the Seymour hospital that night, I couldn’t say anything but good for them. Not only (the doctor), they were just all on her, and she was the focus in getting her to Riley,” Wells said. “He was a lifesaver.”
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For information about Kawasaki disease, visit kdfoundation.org.