Christina Prachniak, a single mom of two from Punta Gorda, Florida, is no stranger to medical scares. Her 10-year-old son Ben has spent time before in the ER before.
“My son has asthma,” she tells Scary Mommy. “He has been in the ER for it maybe five times for it, but never needed to be admitted in the past. At most, usually a shot of steroids fixes his flare ups.”
But this time was different. Christina is not sure exactly where her son caught COVID-19, but she thinks it may have happened last month at a trampoline park in Florida.
“We wanted to go to a water park but it started lightning right as we arrived,” Christina recalls. “We decided to go to [trampoline park] instead. I believe he got it there. Nobody else in our party or family got COVID-19. Just Ben.”
On the fourth of July, Christina rushed her son to the hospital as he was having an asthma attack. Ben’s oxygen levels had plummeted and he needed to be admitted immediately. Ben tested positive for both COVID-19 and the flu.
Christina shared her harrowing story with the local news station, WINK, because she desperately wanted to get the message out there that this virus is no joke and can have devastating effects on children, especially vulnerable children like her son Ben.
“There are so many alarms that go off when a child has COVID,” Christina said, as she described her experience to WINK. “Everything is monitored. You get scared. You have a little panic attack.”
Christina’s husband passed away in 2012 – this made the experience all the more traumatizing for her and her family.
“My husband passed away eight years ago. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my son too,” she told WINK.
As for Ben, she tells WINK that she wouldn’t leave his side when he was in the hospital. “I really thought my child was going to die,” she said. “They were talking about intubating him.”
After four days in the hospital, and life-saving treatment from the hospital staff, Ben is okay now. But Christina has a powerful message she wants to send to parents.
“I want parents to take this seriously,” she tells Scary Mommy.
She is especially concerned about children who have asthma. “I want parents of asthmatic children to please pay attention to your child and take them in at the first sign of trouble,” she says. “Do not hesitate!”
She suggests that parents invest in oximeters so that they can monitor their children’s oxygen levels at home and take their kids in at the first sign of distress.
“If you can afford it, buy a pulse oximeter,” she suggests. “I have one and when I took his readings, his oxygen was at 83% saturation.”
Maintaining oxygen levels was a major concern for Ben throughout his time in the hospital. Christina describes this scary experience to Scary Mommy.
“My son could not maintain his own oxygen levels,” she says. “He had to be put on a BiPAP machine that forces air into his lungs every few seconds. He had to get shots in his belly twice a day.”
But it went beyond breathing: the doctors had to monitor Ben for blood clots as well. (Blood clotting issues can happen in severe cases of COVID-19.)
“He had to wear special leg cuffs that inflate every so often so he wouldn’t get blood clots,” she says. “He had to be on blood thinners in case he developed a clot.”
It isn’t just parents that Christine has a message for. She wants schools—especially the ones in her home state of Florida, where the virus is currently running spiking—to strongly reconsider opening.
“I think returning to school, especially here in Florida where the virus is still rampant, is a terrible idea,” she tells Scary Mommy. “I used to volunteer every day in a first-grade classroom for two years and I know what it is like for smaller children and teachers and parents. I believe it is potentially disastrous.”
She’s worried about children (and teachers and staff) becoming as sick as her son did, but also about the hospitals being able to handle the potential influx of patients that may result if schools were to open.
“I believe it is potentially disastrous,” she says. “I believe our hospitals won’t be able to handle an influx of COVID patients. When I was at Golisano Children’s Hospital, two of the nurses had to leave because of COVID-19. They are short on respiratory therapists. Some are already pulling double shifts.”
Christine shared that her son is thankfully—and miraculously—back to normal at this point. “He seems to be 100% back to normal,” she says. “His oxygen has been maintaining at least 96%.”
But the trauma he and her family had to endure has been intense. “He had never been hospitalized before so this was very traumatic for him. And me.”
Christine says that she has felt compelled to share her story as openly as possible because she wants to spread awareness—and because she herself had underestimated what COVID could do to children.
“I didn’t think COVID was this bad,” she said. “Boy was I wrong.”