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“We thought she was going to die:” Family shares 3-year-old’s fight against COVID

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 10:42 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The number of children contracting COVID is at an all-time high, according to the CDC. While most recover with no trouble, the virus also is putting more kids in the hospital.

Three-year-old Evelyn Ijams of Topeka is one of them.

“I have always listened to my mom gut, and I knew something was wrong,” her mother, Morgan, recalls of how Evy was acting the week after Christmas.

“When she tried to sit up, she couldn’t even hold her own head up,” Morgan said. “She laid down and looked at me and said, ‘Mommy I want to go home.’ Well, we were at home.”

A day earlier, Dec. 27, Evy had tested positive for COVID. Morgan and her husband Michael rushed her from their Topeka home to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, where she’d been treated for epilepsy a couple months earlier.

“Her lips were white. She looked really sick,” Morgan said.

As the week went on, Evy got worse.

“She was just having a really hard time breathing, and she was hurting,” Morgan said.

Evy went from oxygen, to CPAP and BIPAP machines, and finally a ventilator and ECMO - a device helping get oxygen to her heart and lungs.

“My thought was, ‘Why her?’ We really thought she was going to die,” Morgan said.

Evy had brain swelling, a blood infection, and pneumonia in both lungs that ate away at her lung tissue.

“We both were so scared,” Morgan said. “We kept talking to her, ‘Evy you can do this; you’re strong; we’re here for you; keep fighting.’”

Evy’s case is an extreme among children who get COVID, but it is a risk.

“It is a spectrum,” Stormont Vail pediatric hospitalist Dr. Fouad Medlej said.

Dr. Medlej says children with conditions like immune deficiencies, heart issues, and respiratory conditions are at higher risk, but he’s also seen severe COVID illness in healthy kids. He said there’s no way to predict to whom it will happen, so everyone must take precautions.

“You can’t run the gamble by saying your kid’s healthy, I’m just going to let him or her go whatever, do whatever, without proper screening of the environment,” he said. “Still have a life, enjoy your life, but make the hard choices and do what needs to be done, not what’s convenient, so that the virus doesn’t keep piggybacking from one person to another until it finds a susceptible host and causes a lot of problems in that person.”

Morgan agrees.

“If you don’t do it for your self, at least do it for the children and the elderly,” she said.

Morgan and Michael took precautions. Both they and Evy’s older siblings, 10-year-old twins Lilly and Steven are vaccinated. The family wears masks, sanitizes, and avoids crowds. Morgan tested positive just before Christmas, and isolated with mild symptoms, only for Evy to follow.

“My husband and I want to share the story to show how serious it can be for a child,” she said. “Normally kids do bounce back, but not all kids bounce back. This attacked her lungs, and it attacked her hard and fast. I would never want anybody to have to go through this.”

Throughout their journey, Morgan has been posting video updates on Facebook. She said it’s helped to know people were praying for them and supporting them.

“We needed the prayers,” she said. “I think the power of prayer is really big, and that’s what got us through, too.”

Evy spent nearly two weeks on the ventilator, and she’s now logged one month in the PICU. She is still fighting infections and fevers, and half of one lung is now basically dead tissue. But the prognosis is positive.

“They said she could live a happy, normal life. She might get winded quicker,” Morgan said.

Still, Evy could spend another three to six months in the hospital, while her lungs heal. Until then, the Christmas tree remains standing at her grandparents’ home, waiting for Evy to return.

“She’s a fighter - that little girl is a fighter. She’s strong,” Morgan said.

The Ijams and Dr. Medlej say keeping Evy and other kids safe - kids who are too young or unable to get the vaccine - takes everyone. They urge people to get vaccinated, and when kids or adults are sick, stay home and away from other people.

If you would like to assist the family, friends have established a GoFundMe to assist with expenses. You can find it by clicking here.

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