It’s summer friends! And that means that longer days, warmer nights, and killer ticks are in full swing.
That’s right, killer ticks.
Summer is a time for fun in the sun, but one Kentucky mama has a warning for parents this week after an innocent afternoon in the sun landed her 2-year-old in the ICU with a deadly tick-borne illness.
Kayla Oblisk had never heard of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever when her son Jackson first came down with a fever in May.
“The only thing I had ever heard of was Lyme disease,” the 24-old told TODAY. “This was the scariest experience of my life. I would never wish this on anyone else.”
It all started on Thursday, May 16, when Oblisk’s husband Brandon, took their 2-year-old son Jackson to play at a local park.
When they returned home, Brandon noticed a tick on Jackson and pulled it out, making sure to remove the head. Oblisk says Jackson was his usual, rambunctious-self for most of the weekend.
But when Sunday rolled around, the toddler was running a low-grade fever. Having had his fair share of ear infections that were usually accompanied with low fevers, Oblisk says she didn’t think much of it.
That is, until the following day when a rash appeared.
“When we woke up the next day he had this light pink rash all over his body,” she said. “It looked like an innocent rash.”
Still, she took Jackson to the doctor that Tuesday where he was diagnosed with a viral rash. The pediatrician sent him home with some medication and expected it to go away on its own in the coming days.
But things only got worse.
After four days, they returned to the doctor with a rising fever as Jackson’s rash continued to spread.
Again the doctor informed Oblisk that it was a viral rash, which would go away with the help of a prescription steroid.
“I wasn’t really appeased. I didn’t really feel that was the answer,” she said, hoping still that Jackson’s symptoms would improve over the weekend.
But by Monday morning, things had taken a turn for the worse.
“Monday he had a fever of 105. The rash looked like bruises the size of pinheads. His face, his neck, his hands, the bottom of his feet were covered in these dark red dots,” she explained.
The toddler had slept for 22 hours straight and refused to eat, which raised some major red flags and led Oblisk to take her son to the emergency room.
When she explained that her son’s health had steadily declined after having been bitten by a tick more than a week prior, doctors believed he had either a mild version of rickettsiosis or the more serious Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be one of the most deadly tick-borne illness.
They ran tests and treated Jackson with IV antibiotics, while they awaited the results. Though the antibiotics effectively treat both diseases, Jackson’s condition did not improve right away, and new symptoms began appearing.
“He swelled up like a little balloon,” Oblisk said. “You couldn’t touch him or move him or lay with him because you would push on his hands, feet face … he’d wake up periodically to cry.”
Jackson was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) for several nights with low oxygen levels as he struggled to breathe.
For most of his time during Jackson’s 16-day hospital stay, he slept as his body tried to heal. He was unconscious in a coma for six of those days.
Last week he was finally on the up and up and by his birthday on May 31, he was awake and alert and able to leave the ICU.
“The doctors are fairly confident that he’s going to make a full recovery,” Oblisk said.
Jackson was well enough to be transferred to Frazier Medical Rehab Center where he began physical therapy to re-learn how to walk, talk and eat.
On Tuesday the family finally got to return home, but there’s still a long road ahead for Jackson. Doctors warn he may suffer in his first few years of school, could develop arthritis and food allergies — particularly to dairy or milk.
But so far Oblisk says he hasn’t had any food aversions, and only time will tell what is next for their little boy.
“Over the past three or four days he has significantly improved,” Oblisk said.
In sharing their story to raise awareness about the silent but deadly effects of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, she was connected with another mama who knows this story all too well.
Two years ago last week, Kayla Conn lost her beautiful 2-year-old daughter Kenley to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
As previously shared on For Every Mom, Kenley was misdiagnosed several times before doctors discovered the tick-borne illness. But they were too late. By the time they could treat her with the right antibiotic, Kenley’s brain had swelled and she was gone.
Kayla Conn and Kayla Oblisk have developed an unexpected friendship in the last week as they’ve celebrated Jackson’s victories and remembered a life gone too soon to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
“I have a feeling we’re going to be very close,” Oblisk says of her fateful meeting with Conn.
While both moms hope that sharing their stories will spread awareness about tick-borne illness, Oblisk says she wants other parents to trust their gut — it could mean the difference between life and death for your child.
“If you are not getting the answers keep pushing,” she said. “We are our child’s voice. If we are not going to speak up for them no one else will.”
A fundraiser has been set up for the Oblisk family to assist with the cost of medical bills. If you feel led to give, you can do so here.