At a Children’s Hospital, a Wave of Young Patients Struggling to Breathe

To see children suffering in the rooms she is cleaning is “overwhelming”.

Behind her, beeping screens monitoring the children’s low blood oxygen levels and alarmingly high heart rates told the story.

Nearby, medical teams guarded an intubated toddler. The patient eventually needed a rare treatment known as high frequency oscillatory ventilation, where gentle vibrations move the air in the lungs. On Thursday, when the chances of survival waned, a small crown was placed on the child’s head.

There was better news in the hallway: Junior’s condition was improving.

His route to intubation had been quick. His sister, 15 months old, fell ill with what appeared to be a mild cold. After a short time, Juniors Day Care reported that he was choking while drinking from a bottle. The family pediatrician diagnosed him with RSV and prescribed albuterol, an asthma drug that had little effect on him.

A day later, Ms. Perrilloux, who is fully vaccinated with her husband, drove him to the hospital. “As soon as I brought him in, they immediately realized something was wrong,” she said. He tested positive for Covid-19 and had difficulty breathing even on a high-flow oxygen machine. The next day he was intubated.

Ms. Perrilloux began to work in the room during the long days so as not to tremble.

“You sit there and think, ‘What could I have done differently?'” She said.

Last week Ms. Perrilloux slept and ate in her son’s room. She held daily prayer sessions with her pastor and family. Before going to bed, she gently smoothed Junior’s curly brown hair so as not to disturb the machinery that kept him alive. She positioned her chair to watch the monitors that were tracking his vital signs and wrapped herself in hospital blankets.

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