Parents PACK Personal Stories – Rotavirus

This article tells of a mom who had two children hospitalized with rotavirus disease at the same time — neither of them had been immunized against rotavirus.

Two children hospitalized with rotavirus

By: Brooke Matthys

It was late in the evening when I realized that my 2-year-old daughter was very sick. She lay on the couch not moving, just staring off into the distance. We rushed to the urgent care clinic where she received IV fluids that seemed to perk her up. Filled with relief, we went home. The next day, however, our beautiful daughter was once again on the couch unable and unwilling to move. She had been vomiting and suffering from diarrhea for three days. This time we went straight to the emergency room. She was dehydrated and would once again need IV fluids. They attempted to start an IV line in her left arm, but ended up blowing all three viable veins. They then tried her right arm, her hands, her feet and even her forehead, but all 12 attempts failed. She was so dehydrated that starting an IV was next to impossible.

I can’t tell you the pain I felt in my heart as I watched my daughter suffer. Weak and scared, all she could do was cover her head with her “blankie” as they stuck her again and again. She was so dehydrated, her little eyes couldn’t even produce tears as she cried. There was talk of calling in the NICU team to make an attempt to find a vein, then talk of calling in the vascular team, and even talk of hydrating her by drilling directly into her bone marrow. My heart broke as I watched helplessly.

Diagnosis and prevention

What was causing all of this? Why was my child so sick? It wasn’t until the next day, after we had been transferred to a children’s hospital and the vascular team had established an IV, that we found out rotavirus was the cause. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rotavirus is the most common cause of wintertime diarrhea and vomiting. It is characterized by a low-grade fever followed by three to eight days of vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by abdominal pain. It is a highly contagious virus that is usually transferred by fecal-oral contact and can live for days on hard surfaces. Rotavirus is a preventable disease. There are currently two different vaccines on the market, both of which have proven to be safe and effective. This immunization was of course one of those my daughter was supposed to have gotten at the Platte County Health Department.

I couldn’t believe it. My older children had suffered from rotavirus, but they had never been this ill. It was at this moment that I had a flash back. I was sitting in my doctor’s office rolling my eyes at the thought of taking my children to the Platte County Health Department for yet more vaccines. My child was paying a high price for my foolish decision and, unfortunately, she wouldn’t be the only one.

Just a few short hours after I had returned to the hospital and heard the diagnosis, our friend, who was home babysitting our other three children, called to say that my 8-month-old son was not doing well. Instinctively, I knew that he too was suffering from rotavirus as I had been splitting my time between home and the hospital. When she called to say he had gotten worse, I met her at the urgent care clinic. That night I took my second ambulance ride in two days. Like his sister, my son was severely dehydrated and needed IV fluids and close monitoring. I now had two children suffering because of me.

My husband and I spent four sleepless days and nights in the hospital with our two young children, just five rooms apart. We would meet occasionally in the hallway to trade rooms and get updates. It was a long and stressful ordeal that I would not wish on any child or parent. The worst part was that it was totally preventable. If I had taken the time to have my children immunized against rotavirus, this could have all been avoided. Watching your children suffer is awful, but knowing that you could have prevented it is much worse.

Learn more about rotavirus and the vaccine that prevents it.

Reviewed by Paul A. Offit, MD on May 27, 2020

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

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