Kaylee Litteral was sitting up in her hospital bed Friday watching “Riverdale” on Netflix and eating ice chips.
Days earlier she had been fighting for breath and life after coming down with a rare, COVID-19-related illness. It took around-the-clock medical care at Cabell Huntington Hospital and — her mother April thinks — the combined prayers of thousands of well-wishers, to bring her back from the brink.
The grueling saga started New Year’s Day after the 17-year-old Fairview High School senior had spent an evening at her boyfriend’s home eating pizza, riding four-wheelers and doing other teenager things, April said.
Kaylee woke up sick and her mother, who had tested positive for COVID-19 Dec. 26, worried that she had transmitted the virus to her child, although the family had taken the usual precautions.
Kaylee was sicker the next day when she went for the test, and later that day they went to an urgent care center where a physician sent her by air to intensive care at Cabell Huntington.
There was no diagnosis yet and the COVID test came back negative. “I didn’t know what was attacking my baby’s body,” her mother said.
The first two days were touch and go, and April felt helpless. “I could sit there and see my baby dying, and I didn’t know what it was,” she said.
There was one clue. Two weeks previously and then again at Cabell Huntington, blood tests showed the presence of COVID antibodies, suggesting Kaylee may have had the virus but had been asymptomatic.
Doctors finally diagnosed her ailment as MIS-C, which stands for multisymptomatic inflammatory syndrome in children. It was attacking her heart, lungs and kidneys.
Her lungs were filling with fluid and doctors put her on a BiPap machine, similar to a ventilator but less invasive, to help her breathe.
Three days ago doctors told April if Kaylee’s vital signs deteriorated, she would have to go on a ventilator, which would be a last-ditch effort to keep her alive.
April said it was then she contacted her network of friends at Mavity Freewill Baptist Church, and they contacted their own networks of family and social media friends.
“There were thousands of people praying for her all night. I believe with all my heart that God touched her. ... Kaylee fought through the night. She kept fighting, my little fighter,” her mother said.
The next morning a nurse checked Kaylee’s respiration. “I heard her say, ‘Wow, I hear air flow,’” April said. “Those were the greatest words I’ve ever heard in my life.” It meant Kaylee’s lungs were clearing up and she would be able to breathe on her own.
From that turning point, Kaylee swiftly recovered. She will remain hospitalized pending some more tests but doctors are increasingly confident.
Kaylee was feeling strong enough Friday to talk on the phone and pose for a photo with her mother. “I feel really good. I’m sitting up in bed and I’m ready to get out of here.”
“It was very traumatic and I don’t remember the first few days,” she said. “My mother was here the whole time. She was here to hold me and rock me and say I would be OK.”