On December 19, a mom from Illinois named Lindsay Prior took to Facebook to share that she had experienced "the scariest/worst feeling" a parent could feel: "Watch your child's eyes get huge and panicked, arms and feet flailing," Prior wrote. "No sound but look like they're screaming bc they lost all air and can't breathe. I've had to watch/see that more times than I can remember in the last few days."
Four days before, the 35-year-old rushed her 5-month-old son Zeke to the emergency room, where doctors noted the little boy was experiencing respiratory failure. "The hospital scene was like something out of Grey's [Anatomy]," Prior, who works at a local daycare, tells Parents.com. "There were 10 nurses and doctors surrounding him. Fast talking, shoving IVs in, getting him on oxygen. I was terrified at this point."
The doctors asked Prior if her son had allergies, if he was a preemie (he wasn't), if he had any other issues like asthma, which he did not. "Once they got him settled, they got the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) doctor down to discuss the machine he was eventually put on called NIV NAVA. It assists breathing through a tube down his nose into his diaphragm. This was newer technology and a last ditch effort to not intubate him. After he was hooked up to this machine, and set at very high levels of assistance, the next 48 hours were still touch and go. They discussed multiple times about possibly intubating him."
Zeke had been diagnosed with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a common, highly contagious virus that targets the lungs and respiratory system and usually presents like the common cold. Although almost every child is exposed to RSV before their second birthday, most people don't show symptoms. But some young children, specifically babies, RSV can lead to complications like pneumonia.
Hoping to raise awareness, Prior shared a video from the hospital that illustrates Zeke's labored breathing. "Just an FYI for parents," she wrote alongside the clip. "If you ever see your child's stomach look the way Zeke's does in this video, take them in. It is called 'pulling,' and it is a clear indication that they are working too hard to breathe."
The Mayo Clinic echoes Prior's explanation, noting that parents may notice their child's chest muscles and skin pull inward with each breath. Other signs and symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants include:
Prior continued to share updates from the hospital, showing parents what it really looks like when a baby is battling this illness. "With RSV bronchiolitis, the airways are constricted with thick mucus," Prior explains. "There was a point where he was being suctioned through his nose and also with a tiny tube down his nose and throat about every 20 minutes."
In a December 20 post, she shared a heartbreaking video that illustrated the process. "Just wanted to share a snippet of our reality lately," she wrote. "I know everyone keeps seeing the pics of him just laying in bed awake or sleeping... But this is a LOT of the time. There are times he needs this done every 20-30 min. His look on his face when he can't breathe gets me every damn time. He's a trooper tho. ALL the nurses keep commenting on how he's such a good baby... Even when he's upset or in distress. Squishy is fighting hard!! #squishyZeke"
Thankfully, after several days in the hospital and slowly weaning off of oxygen, Zeke's condition improved. By December 21, he had been released from the ICU. Prior shared an update, writing, "We have left ICU!!! We just got in a room. So happy! Continuing to bottle feed. He's taking about 2 oz every 3 hours for now. Gotta keep weening off this oxygen. He's currently checking out his new digs and playing."
Two days later, Zeke made it through a whole night without oxygen. "He has a dry tickly sounding cough again that's annoying him, but he slept awesome," Prior shared. "I was awake, yet again. Just waiting impatiently for an important person to come around and tell us we can go! It's Christmas Eve Eve!!"
That same day, just in time for Christmas, Zeke was released from the hospital. Although Prior's L.O. thankfully on the mend, she points out that it's still a slow recovery process. "He's still coughing and wheezing now," Prior explains. "Everyone is different but since he was SO sick, [the doctors] said it could take weeks to go away. I bought one of those nasty nasal aspirators to use at home. I always said I'd never use one of those things, and here we are!"
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned that we're in the midst of prime RSV season (October to April) and noted that more than 57,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection. For that reason, Prior's warning for parents are more timely than ever.
Looking back on her recent, emotional journey, Prior encourages parents to watch for the signs and trust their guts. "Follow your instincts," she says. "I knew something wasn't right."
When it comes to preventing the illness, Prior echoes the CDC, advising that parents practice vigilant hand-washing and prevent exposure to people with symptoms of the common cold, especially if their child is premature or immunocompromised. The CDC also recommends covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces and objects that people frequently touch, such as toys and doorknobs.
That said, Prior notes that practicing self-compassion is key, too. "Know that you can't prevent it sometimes," she says. "We go to day care. There are sick people/kids. You can't beat yourself up or think you're a bad parent if it does unfortunately happen. Our kids can't live in a bubble."