Two parents were horrified as they watched their young lad suffer excruciating pain when his whole body became swollen due to a post-Covid illness.
Katie and Scott Heddle, from Kendal in the Lake District, first realised something was wrong when their son Logan started complaining of a sore neck and a temperature on November 24.
At the time they had no idea their 12-year-old boy was suffering with an agonising condition called Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome – which doctors are still struggling to fully understand.
Paediatricians still don’t know why Logan and other healthy kids suffer the fierce pain as their entire body becomes swollen, weeks after recovering from Covid.
What medics do know is that PIMS happens when the immune system over-reacts in its fight to attack the COVID-19 virus and affect other parts of the body.
By the next morning after Logan first complained of feeling out of sorts, he had a sore throat and his neck was visibly swollen.
atie and Logan’s GP spoke on a telephone consultation and the youngster was initially diagnosed with tonsilitis.
Come Friday, Logan was “miserable,” and continued to suffer from a “sky high” temperature, and by Saturday, he was experiencing stomach pains and didn’t want to eat.
At this point, mumps or glandular fever was suspected, before bouts of vomiting took hold.
Desperate for answers, Katie and Scott turned to the NHS 111 service, who referred Scott to see an out-of-hours appointment at their closest hospital. Again, mumps or glandular fever was the most likely cause, said doctors.
By Sunday night, and then into Monday morning, Logan had “excruciating” stomach pain, suffering from a temperature at close to 40 degrees Celsius, prompting the couple to return to the hospital.
It was at this point that the true urgency and severity of the situation hit home, with Scott taking his ill son to Lancaster Royal Infirmary where Logan was admitted with suspected severe sepsis.
Working in collaboration with Manchester Children’s Hospital, doctors set about ruling out other causes, but he was quickly diagnosed with suspected PIMS, and moved by specialist ambulance service to Manchester.
He was placed on a ventilator, hooked up to a variety of intravenous drips and placed in intensive care, as treatment got under way, led by a varied and multi-disciplinary team of specialists.
Doctors first needed to rule out other, more common conditions that cause similar symptoms, including Kawasaki disease, sepsis and toxic shock syndrome.
Logan was hooked up to an intravenous immunoglobulin right away, but before he could be given steroids, further tests had to be carried out.
These confirmed the PIMS diagnosis, which came like a bolt from the blue for the whole family — Katie, Scott and Logan’s younger brother, ten-year-old Lochlan.
Katie explained: “It was surreal. I guess no parents expect themselves to be in that situation, and obviously you’re trying to be positive and remain calm, and hope that everything would get better, but you would then take a reality check and think ‘I’m in ICU here, my child is critically ill, and doctors are saying that he is very sick.’
She continued: “They [the doctors] recognised straight away that he was severely ill, and there was a doctor and a nurse constantly with him.”
Cases of PIMS, which mainly affect young people in adolescence, but can also be contracted by children, are on the rise, as COVID-19 cases increase.
It was around a month earlier that Logan had contracted COVID, remaining symptomless for the entire infection period.
PIMS symptoms appear to develop after the infectious period for COVID-19 has ended, the main symptom being a high temperature that lasts for a few days. Symptoms can also include, among others, a rash, diarrhoea and vomiting, unexplained irritability, swollen neck glands and stomach pain or cramps.
“Some doctors do have a good awareness of it, but even within the medical profession, there seems to be mixed levels of awareness of PIMS,” says Katie as she reflects on the family’s traumatic experience.
“I know it’s rare, but to think that the previous three people hadn’t picked up on the fact that he’d had COVID recently, and had all the symptoms of PIMS — but yet it wasn’t even considered.
“When I look back at all the symptoms he had — he’d had COVID recently, the prime age — there was something not right. He’s typically a well boy.”
Katie praised the “fantastic” care by the “amazing” team of doctors and nurses, who, through their expertise and care, “made you feel that Logan was in good hands.”
On a ventilator for five days, he spent 11 days in intensive care, before being moved to high dependency for two nights, and then on to a ward for three nights.
Slowly but surely, Logan’s condition began to improve, as he gradually became stronger day-by-day. On Saturday, December 11, he was oxygen, wire and drip free.
In a euphoric moment for the family, he returned home on Thursday, December 16 — to the delight of his parents, Lochlan and their pet beagle.
“He’s so glad to be home and see his brother. He was very excited about seeing his dog. He’s missed him a lot.
“He’s doing great in himself, he’s had a couple of friends round to visit.
“Prior to this, he swam four hours a week, football training three times a week, walked back and fore to school every day which is half-an-hour each way, played football and rugby for the school — he is a really sporty child, so I think that’s why it’s quite a shock to people.
“It [PIMS] doesn’t discriminate. He was the picture of health, a sporty child, didn’t have any symptoms of COVID, so it was the last thing we expected.”
Research is being conducted into the long-term effects of PIMS, but all signs that he will make a full recovery are moving in a positive direction in Logan’s case.
He will be monitored, and receive regular check-ups, but recovery is a gradual process. That means that, for now, swimming, football and rugby is off the table for the sports-mad youngster.
“He’s been going to the end of the road on little walks,” Katie continues. “Yesterday we managed about a three-quarter mile walk, so we’re just slowly building up his activity level.”
Family has been a huge source of support for Katie and Scott, who own their own business, designing and building holiday parks.
Katie’s parents, Marcus and Karen Wood, and John and Ann, Scott’s father and mother, both travelled down to the Lake District to assist and support the family through their ordeal.
Katie believes that the horrific experience the Heddle family has lived through over the last couple of months shows that COVID is not always the harmless virus for children many may think.
She now wants to share her story to raise awareness of PIMS, and the serious implications of COVID-19. Katie says her son is a prime example of the devastation the virus can cause even for children and adolescents.
“There is that perception that it doesn’t affect children, and I must say that I was the same. I obviously didn’t purposely want my child to get COVID, but once he’d had it, I thought ‘that’s ticked off now’ but I didn’t expect this to happen.
“Logan’s a prime example — yes, it might not affect them actually having it, but it is the after-effects.”