Houston mom and 6-year-old son share story of 'scary' battle with rare COVID-19 complication

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A 6-year-old boy and his mom are reflecting back on his scary battle with a rare COVID-19 complication in children that left him hospitalized in the ICU for more than two weeks.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, also known as MIS-C, in children is a rare condition where different parts of the body become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, and brain. It usually happens three to four weeks after contracting the virus. It is extremely rare with only 1% of kids with COVID getting it.

Last January, Sara Cantu took her son Santana, who was 5 at the time, to the hospital when he began experiencing symptoms weeks after contracting COVID.

"They said, 'I think we need to intubate him and it's going to be the best thing for him because we need his heart to recover,'" Cantu recalled.

Santana was transferred to Texas Children's Hospital and spent a total of 16 days in the ICU. Cantu didn't know whether her son was going to make it, and took videos to remember their last moments together.

"I said, 'I don't know if this is the last time I'm going to talk to him,' so we took a video and I said, 'You're just going to go to sleep and when you get up, you're going to be stronger,'" Cantu said. "'Mommy isn't going to leave your side,' He said 'OK.' (Doctors) came in shortly after and intubated him."

Health officials are still working to answer many unanswered questions about MIS-C. According to the CDC, researchers still learning about how it affects children, why some get it and others don't, and the long-term side effects.

At the time Cantu learned about MIS-C, she said there was not much information out there that she believed was helpful as a parent. She said one of the things that kept her faith and strength afloat was the need to educate parents to recognize signs.

"I had to keep telling him to be strong, and, at the same time, as he was lying in that bed the only thing that could help me was to educate other people. To tell other families, 'If your child has COVID, now you have to look out for these symptoms,'" Cantu said.

The CDC recommends parents to contact their child's doctor, nurse, or clinic if they begin showing some of the following symptoms of MIS-C:

  • Stomach pain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dizziness


Santana has almost made a full recovery, although it's hard to say whether there will be any long-term side effects. His one-year check-up is just around the corner.

"I see us spreading a lot of awareness," Cantu said.

Cantu joined a support group, which she said helped her get through. The group called CircumSTANCE aims at spreading awareness and is filled with other parents in similar situations.

According to hospital officials, Texas Children's Hospital has seen more than 250 MIS-C cases since the start of the pandemic. Officials expect that number to grow since MIS-C tends to affect people three to six weeks after they have contracted COVID.

The recent omicron surge may also impact case growth.

Earlier in this month, Texas Children's Hospital reported reaching its highest number of pediatric hospitalizations, which was more than 70. A spokesperson for the hospital said there are currently 70 cases.

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