Nebraska baby has brain swelling from COVID-19

U.S. & World

A Nebraska family, living near the South Dakota border, has experienced the toughest month of their lives. It started when the entire family contracted COVID-19 and their youngest child, who was just four months old, was airlifted to Denver after his brain stared swelling.

Despite all of their best efforts, the Whitton family of Hay Springs, Nebraska, couldn’t keep COVID-19 out of their home. The family of five all got sick in the middle of November, including baby Cullen.

Stephen Whitton with his children, Hayden, Eden and Cullen

“The body aches and then the headaches; My daughter had horrible body aches and headaches and we had to wrap her in ice packs. Our son Cullen started having a cough and he was just really grumpy,” Hillary Whitton said.

Seven-year-old Hayden used a nebulzer breathing treatment for COVID-19

Hillary was most worried about seven-year-old Hayden because he has asthma. However, it was Cullen who kept getting worse. Doctors say children under the age of one are at higher risk for severe illness with COVID-19.

“I woke up at three in the morning and he was so fussy and wouldn’t feed. I noticed I was rubbing his head—the top of his head was bulging out of his soft spot.”

She took Cullen to the closest emergency room.

“We got into the hospital and the rash just started spreading all over his front, up his back and all over his face. With his rash and him not feeding and with his bulging spot, I needed to get him to Denver Children’s because his brain is swelling,” Hillary Whitton said.

Cullen was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado, where he underwent a series of tests.

Hillary Whitton: They called it a bulging fontanel, which they said they typically see in severe viruses in meningitis and stuff like that. They said it’s essentially fluid around the brain causing your brain to swell and puts pressure on your cranium.

Kennecke: Do they think it was caused by the COVID-19.

Hillary Whitton: They told me they had never had a case like this before, but that there could be no other explanation with him being perfectly healthy otherwise and having no other virus. He tested negative for everything else.

Doctors ruled out a brain bleed and sent Cullen home.

Kennecke: How did he do once he got home?

Whitton: The first week was miserable. The swelling never went down, He was very upset.

Hillary tries to keep Cullen elevated as much as possible.

Whitton: He has his good moments where the swelling is down and he’ll be happy and a normal baby and then the swelling will come back. A lot of times we wake up in the morning and his head is swollen.

Kennecke: And so it’s not over?

Whitton: No, what we’re being told is we have to get him to a pediatric neurologist because this could have life-long effects on him.

The Whitton family is sharing Cullen’s story to warn other parents about potential brain swelling in infants from COVID-19.

“I’ve had at least a dozen moms come out and tell me their infant had the same thing and they were turned away at hospitals because they were saying this is no symptom. It’s hard to see your baby go through that. It is,” Whitton said.

One thing that made the whole ordeal especially tough was how sick everyone in the Whitton family was at the time this happened. Hillary says the entire community has rallied behind her family. There is also a GoFundMe page set up to help with Cullen’s medical expenses.

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