The U.S. is about to enter its fifth month battling the coronavirus (or seventh, if you consider that the first case recorded on U.S. soil came in late January). And yet, the country is still battling another very real and serious threat right now: The growing myth that the pandemic is all a big hoax. One Southwest Florida mom is trying her best to put these conspiracy theories to rest by sharing the story of her own 10-year-old son, who spent weeks fighting for his life after being diagnosed with COVID-19. But she’s also going one step further, too: By warning that if schools rush to reopen, many parents could be living her nightmare very soon.
Christina Prachniak thought her son might die several times
“There was no hope four days ago,” Christina told WINK News in early July. “I was crying and crying because I really thought my child was going to die.”
Such was the ongoing cycle of fear and panic that Christina lived with for weeks. Her son, Ben, was first diagnosed with both COVID-19 and the flu on the Fourth of July, soon after he was rushed to the hospital during an asthma attack. And while she can’t be certain as to where her 10-year-old contracted the virus, the Punta Gorda mom suspects it was during a trip to a trampoline park in June.
“We wanted to go to a water park, but it started lightning right as we arrived,” Christina recently told Scary Mommy. “We decided to go to a [trampoline park] instead. I believe he got it there. Nobody else in our party or family got COVID-19. Just Ben.”
Suddenly, their lives became a terrifying waiting game
“I didn’t think COVID was this bad,” she admitted. “Boy was I wrong.”
In her interview with WINK News, Christina shared how on edge she became during the early days of her son’s hospitalization.
“There are so many alarms that go off when a child has COVID,” she said. “Everything is monitored. You get scared. You have a little panic attack.”
Those little panic attacks would be understandable for any parent in her situation, but for Christina, the fear of losing her son was just a little too real, given the fact that she already lost her husband back in 2012.
“It’s terrifying,” she told the news station. “My husband passed away eight years ago. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my son too.”
Luckily, that didn’t happen
Christina told Scary Mommy that Ben is now doing well, thanks to the lifesaving efforts of the staff at Golisano Children’s Hospital, and appears to be out of the woods.
But that doesn’t mean she’ll soon forget the harrowing days and weeks she spent praying over his hospital bed.
Now she has an urgent message for parents
“I want parents to take this seriously. I want parents of asthmatic children to please pay attention to your child and take them in at the first sign of trouble,” Christina continued. “Do not hesitate!”
She also has some very practical advice for them, as well as any American who is concerned about the virus’s risks.
“If you can afford it, buy a pulse oximeter,” she urged. “I have one and when I took his readings, his oxygen was at 83% saturation.”
Pulse oximeters measure the amount of oxygen that’s present in the blood, which doctors say should be no less than 94% at all times. Low levels of oxygen in the blood mean that the body’s organs and tissue are also being deprived of oxygen, which can often lead to death.
Over the last few months, pulse oximeters have emerged as a critical tool in monitoring the virus in patients, since it can often detect trouble before symptoms worsen. And in many cases, it’s saved lives.
In late April, a New York Times op-ed by Dr. Richard Levitan helped fuel demand for the small device, which clips on to the finger and spits out a reading in less than 15 seconds. Suddenly, they were flying off pharmacy shelves faster than rolls of toilet paper — and with good reason.
According to Levitan, oximeters help signal whether or not COVID-19 patients are at risk of what’s been called “COVID pneumonia”, which can lead to severe breathing issues and, in many cases, death.
“These COVID patients have adapted to this slow, insidious drop in their oxygen and they don’t know it,” he later told NPR. “Then when they come in with shortness of breath, it is late in the process.”
For Christina, Ben’s oxygen levels were a major concern
“My son could not maintain his own oxygen levels,” she said. “He had to be put on a BiPAP machine that forces air into his lungs every few seconds. He had to get shots in his belly twice a day.”
Doctors also closely monitored Ben for blood clots, placing him on blood thinners and fitting him with special leg cuffs that inflate periodically to prevent the clots from forming.
Now Christina is happy to report that her son seems to have fully recovered. His oxygen levels are consistently at 96 percent or above, and his symptoms have gone away. Still, that doesn’t mean she’s put the experience in the rear-view.
The very notion of schools reopening next month has left her reeling
“I think returning to school, especially here in Florida where the virus is still rampant, is a terrible idea,” she told Scary Mommy. “I used to volunteer every day in a first grade classroom for two years, and I know what it is like for smaller children and teachers and parents. I believe it is potentially disastrous.”
Florida is currently in the midst of a massive coronavirus surge, and was recently declared the new epicenter of the virus — not just here in the US, but in the entire world. (Just let that sink in for a minute.) So far, the state has reported more than 451K positive cases and over 6,300 deaths, with at least 54 hospitals at capacity. At the same time, Florida education officials are pushing to reopen in-person classes in just a few weeks — and have still not issued a statewide mask-wearing mandate.
All things considered, Christina says Florida is facing a “potentially disastrous” situation. And that’s putting it mildly.
“I believe our hospitals won’t be able to handle an influx of COVID patients,” she shared. “When I was at Golisano Children’s Hospital, two of the nurses had to leave because of COVID-19. They are short on respiratory therapists. Some are already pulling double shifts.”
Her plea now is simple
And it’s one that hasn’t changed at all since her coronavirus nightmare began.
COVID-19 is here and it is real — despite what some politicians and the viral conspiracy videos may be claiming.
“My son was so healthy,” Christina told WINK in early July. “24 hours later, he was dying. It’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.”