After contracting COVID, a 3-year-old suffers from a rare and severe brain swelling

A 3-year-old boy faces a long recovery after contracting COVID-19 while on family vacation. Now a Sylmar family hopes his story will help others.

Doctors say this is a stark reminder of why COVID vaccinations and the booster shot are so important.

Before CJ Mercado tested positive for COVID-19, he smiled and danced like any other kid his age. But within days he was in the hospital, clinging to life.

“Doctors ended up coming in and saying that … he had elevated pressure in his brain … so just prepare yourself,” said Melissa Mercado, CJ’s mother.

Around mid-July, during CJ’s third birthday, he was on his first family trip since the stay-at-home orders prompted by the pandemic.

On the way home, CJ developed a high fever and headache. His parents took him to Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center.

“By that point he was unresponsive and having seizures,” Mercado said.

CT scans showed CJ’s brain was swollen. Doctors diagnosed him with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis. Inflammation destroyed the protective covering that surrounded his nerve cells.

“The signal being sent from one nervous system to the other has been disrupted,” said Dr. Ira Wardono.

She said that within 12 hours, CJ could not walk or speak. He was transferred to UCLA, where he remained in intensive care for 20 days.

“They kept telling us that something like this would take time,” said David Mercado, CJ’s father.

He made it, but CJ’s road to recovery will take a long time.

“Rehab can last anywhere from one to five years,” Wardono said.

Now, four months later, CJ’s personality is back.

Doctors can’t say for sure that COVID is the culprit, but CJ’s parents wish they hadn’t waited to get the vaccine.

“We wanted to come back from our trip and he would get it … It could have been a lot different for him,” Mercado said.

Any viral or bacterial infection can cause this type of encephalitis, although it is extremely rare. The advice remains the same. Stay away from sick people and get vaccinated as soon as they are available.

“It’s serious. It can change your life,” Mercado said.

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved. After contracting COVID, a 3-year-old suffers from a rare and severe brain swelling

Laura Coffey

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