Teen girl recovering in ICU with new coronavirus-related illness similar to Kawasaki disease

Leah's doctor credits swift action and awareness for saving her.

May 13, 2020, 7:27 PM

An eighth grader in Portland, Oregon, is recovering in the intensive care unit after being rushed to the hospital with cardiac failure. Her doctor now says she is a "textbook" case of a concerning new COVID-19-related illness that is popping up around the country.

Leah, 14, had been sick for days, but when her condition worsened last week she knew she had to see a doctor.

"I told my mom I needed to go to the hospital, that I wasn't feeling well and that I needed her to take me because it was like -- it was a weird pain that I was having," Leah, whose last name ABC News is not using to protect her privacy, said in an interview.

It is that swift action and awareness that likely saved her life.

"I had red eyes, like blood shot," Leah continued. "They were scary."

PHOTO: Leah, 14, was admitted to the ICU in Portland with Kawasaki.
Leah, 14, in an undated photo.
Family handout

Luckily, her doctor was familiar with the new illness, called pediatric multi system inflammatory syndrome (PMIS), and rushed her to a hospital.

"She presented with fever, red eyes, abdominal pain and a blood pressure of only 70 over 30 -- so very, very low," Dr. Mark Buchholz, Leah's doctor at Randall Children's Hospital, told ABC News. "Her primary care doctor actually had heard and knew of this syndrome and called the paramedics and sent her over to the emergency department really quickly."

The new illness has so far been reported in at least 15 states, and is beginning to alter experts' understanding of a virus that has for the most part not been as dangerous for children. Leah is the first reported case in Oregon. While the disease has been linked to COVID-19 in some children, the exact cause remains a medical mystery. Leah tested negative for the coronavirus, but positive for antibodies, suggesting she had the infection in the past.

"She did not have the typical COVID symptoms that we hear about," Buchholz said of the healthy 14-year-old with no underlying conditions. "She has been sheltering, she has been doing everything perfectly."

"I'm a healthy girl," Leah said. "I never really get sick."

PHOTO: Leah, 14, in the ICU in Portland with Kawasaki.
Leah, 14, in the ICU in Portland.
Family handout

But Leah still contracted PMIS. "She had about five to six days of fever, then abdominal, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and then the red eyes and just really feeling crummy," Buchholz said.

Since being admitted, Leah has responded incredibly well to treatment, which includes blood thinners and immunoglobulin.

"This week, I feel a lot better," Leah said. "It took like a couple days, like three, four days for me to feel like better again. So I can get my strength back."

Buchholz said the ability to get Leah swift treatment made all of the difference in her condition.

"I'm very grateful because I could have been gone," Leah said. "I'm glad I got help right away."

At least five children have died from PMIS in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday, including a 5-year-old in New York City.

PHOTO: Leah, 14, was admitted to the ICU in Portland with Kawasaki.
Leah, 14, in an undated photo.
Family handout

"This is truly disturbing," Cuomo said. "We raise it because it's something parents should be aware of."

In Leah's case, it is this awareness that ultimately helped saved her. "She has weathered the storm," Buchholz said.

"It all started from education. Mom knew something was up, brought her in," Buchholz added. "And the system worked well."