A mom in Texas is speaking out after her 5-year-old daughter was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit after contracting a potentially life-threatening, COVID-related disease that affects kids.
Tara Copeland's daughter, Peyton, 5, was diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, in late December, around one month after Copeland and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19 and the couple's five children, including Peyton, also showed symptoms of the virus.
Weeks after the seven members of the Copeland family had all recovered from COVID-19, Peyton woke up on Christmas morning with a low-grade fever and a headache. She was seen the next day by a doctor at an urgent care clinic and treated for strep throat, but her symptoms continued to worsen, according to Copeland.
"By the night of the 27th she came down with a really bad rash and by this time her lips were swollen, her eyes were bloodshot and her face was starting to swell," she said of Peyton. "She still had a horrible headache and stomachache and kept waking up in pain."
Copeland, of Weatherford, Texas, took her daughter the next morning to the emergency room at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, where Peyton was diagnosed with MIS-C, a condition Copeland said she had never heard of before.
"They tested her for COVID-19 and said she was negative for COVID but she was positive for antibodies, and they started doing more lab work and figured out she probably had MIS-C," said Copeland. "By that night she was in the ICU and about 4 p.m. the next day she was put on a ventilator."
MIS-C is a condition where different body parts like the heart, lungs, brain, skin, eyes and kidneys can become inflamed. The condition occurs in children who have had the virus that causes COVID-19, according to Dr. Nicholas Rister, an infectious disease specialist at Cook Children's Hospital.
"It's frustrating because we don't know the exact link to why is COVID doing this in particular," Rister told "GMA." "What we've seen previously with other infections in children, and in adults too, your immune system gets really revved up, and starts driving inflammation, which normally isn't bad because that's how your body drives off infections."
"The problem with these post-infection inflammation syndromes is that you're post the infection so these kids have already had COVID and they've either recovered from it or they've had very mild symptoms, but now for some reason, their immune system gets highly turned on, and that's where you start to see the fevers, the rashes, the irritability," he said.
In Peyton's case, the pre-kindergarten student's symptoms had worsened throughout her body to the point where she was struggling to breathe and maintain consciousness. She stayed on a ventilator for two days and then was placed on oxygen along with a feeding tube because she could not eat, according to Copeland.
"If I had known and been aware of [MIS-C], I might have just gone straight to the hospital instead of to urgent care," said Copeland. "I didn't know that it existed or the symptoms and because she had a positive strep test, I just thought okay she has strep."
In order to have a diagnosis of MIS-C, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a patient must be 21-years-old and younger; have a fever of at least 100.4 degrees for at least 24 hours; have laboratory evidence of inflammation; show evidence of a "clinically severe illness requiring hospitalization" with multiple organ systems involved; be positive for current or recent COVID-19 infection by PCR, serology, or antigen test, or have exposure to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case in the past four weeks; and have "no alternative plausible diagnoses."
At that time, in May, ABC News identified over 200 possible and confirmed cases of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome across 19 states and Washington, D.C.
Since June, there have been reports of a similar multisystem inflammatory syndrome in adults, known as MIS-A, according to the CDC.
Because children can often be asymptomatic of COVID-19, experts like Rister say it is important for parents to watch for symptoms in children who have been exposed to COVID-19, whether or not they have actually tested positive for the virus.
The symptoms typically occur within a month of being exposed to COVID-19. It is also important that a child with MIS-C is treated as quickly as possible in order to improve the odds of recovery, according to Rister.
"If there have been family members with COVID and then weeks later a child is acting sick, then it's something that needs to be considered," he said, noting again that symptoms to watch for include stomachache, fever, rash and headache. "It's very tricky because it's kind of non-specific, but usually with something like MIS-C, it's going to be severe enough that it's not something that most family members would be comfortable watching at home, they're going to be like, 'My child needs to get checked out. This is too much.'"
While MIS-C is still considered a rare complication of COVID-19, adults need to watch for it in children as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the country, according to Rister.
In the first week of 2021, U.S. states and territories reported more cases than at any point in the pandemic so far, according to ABC News' analysis of data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.
Copeland said she is sharing her family's experience in hopes of making more parents aware of MIS-C, adding, "Parents need to know the symptoms so [they] can bring a child in to be treated as soon as possible."
After spending nearly two weeks hospitalized, Peyton was discharged on Jan. 7 and is expected to make a full recovery, according to Copeland.
"She's a little miracle really, is what [doctors] say," she said. "It'll be a pretty long road to get back to herself but they expect no permanent damage."