The family of a toddler who passed away this week is speaking out to warn other parents about the dangers of tick bites and symptoms of the serious illness that took their daughter.

By Hollee Actman Becker
June 12, 2017

Kenley Ratliff tragically lost her life last week to Rocky Moutain Spotted Fever that was initially misdiagnosed. Now her parents are making it their mission to warn others about how just quickly the disease can harm a child if not recognized and treated right away.

"If we could save one child's life then we will have done our job," Kenley's aunt Jordan Clapp told Today.

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"They gave her the same treatment and told Kayla to keep Kenley hydrated and come back if she doesn't improve," Clapp explained. She didn't improve. In fact, the fever was still there three days later, and the family was starting to panic because some time had passed since the doctors had told Kayla to wait and let the antibiotics work. So they brought Kenley to the University of Indiana's Riley Children's Hospital and on the way there, the toddler went completely limp.

The doctors at Riley changed Kenley's antibiotics, but a rash had started to appear on Kenley's arms and legs—a hallmark sign of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This was the first clue doctors had that the initial diagnosis of strep might have been wrong. Sadly, it was too late—Kenley's brain had already started to swell and her organs were beginning to fail.

According to the CDC, Rocky Moutain Spotted Fever is tricky to diagnose because the early symptoms may be non-specific, and about half of the people who develop RMSF do not remember being bitten by a tick in the first place. But Clapp says looking back, it made sense that Kenley was one of them.

"She was always outside," she explained. "Just recently she had gone camping."

The CDC says early diagnosis is key in preventing children from dying of RMSF, so if your child has spent time outdoors and has any of the following symptoms, get them to a medical professional ASAP:

  • Fever
  • Rash (occurs 2-5 days after fever, may be absent in some cases)
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain (may mimic appendicitis or other causes of acute abdominal pain)
  • Muscle pain
  • Lack of appetite

If you'd like to help the family, there's a GoFundMe page for Kenley, who would have turned three later this month.

"This little angel is getting her message across the country and in turn, will educate and even save many lives," reads a recent update. "She was a blessing on earth, and now she's a blessing in heaven, still touching and impacting so many people."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.comfor more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter