Farmington Hills toddler survives COVID-19 after 106 fever, parents say

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Farmington Hills — They didn't believe the thermometer's bright red screen: 106.5 degrees.

Amanda May and Ryan Schreiber were staring at their precious blonde-hair, blue-eyed 1-year-old boy in shock.

Then they began to panic.

"Give me your forehead," Amanda May demanded of Ryan. "I promise you we checked it 10 times using two different thermometers and checking it on ourselves, too."

Ryan was 98 degrees. She was 97. But Luke ... "Luke was 106.5!" Amanda May said.

From left, Ryan and Amanda May Schreiber with their sons, Luke, 22 months, and Alistair, four months, at their home in Farmington Hills, Mich. on April. 3, 2020.  Luke received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis earlier this week. As of Friday, he still had a fever but no signs of respiratory disease.

The Farmington Hills couple recounted the ordeal from last month to The Detroit News as a cautionary tale about the novel coronavirus.

They say they'll never forget it. The family had just been watching "Frozen" — again — in their living room on an ordinary Tuesday. Then Luke's fever spiked, and they were frantically headed to the emergency room.

"He looked like he was passing out, I’m doing songs and acting crazy in the car and he just wasn’t responsive," said Amanda May, 31.

"It was one of the scariest moments of my life."

The couple had been checking their two sons' temperatures daily since the family began quarantining on March 13 in response to the coronavirus outbreak. On this particular Tuesday, both 22-month-old Luke and his 4-month-old brother, Alistair, had slight fevers.

"Luke woke up crying, which he never usually does, and he had a fever close to 103, a little more than Alistair's," she said. "... I immediately thought 'oh no,' but we didn't panic. We got them up, gave them Motrin and the fevers reduced quickly, so we hoped it was nothing to worry about.

Hours later, Ryan, 35, was sitting on the couch  with Alistair while Luke was shooting hoops and goofing around. When it was time for the next dose of medicine, they noticed Luke's blonde hair covered in sweat.

"Even after his nap, he was still playing but refused eating and drinking," Amanda May said. "In about an hour’s time, this fever spiked like I had never seen."

They stripped Luke down, got him in a cold bathtub and put cold compresses on his head. He was shaking and shivering.

"Luke started screaming because it was cold, and we were obviously really scared because it all happened really quickly," Ryan said. "In that quick moment of panic, you know you have to jump in action." 

Amanda May rushed Luke to the car for the 11-mile ride to the hospital, while Ryan stayed behind to care for young Alistair.

"As soon as they got to the hospital, I was a little stunned because I thought we had been doing all the right things all along," said Ryan of protecting themselves from the virus.

Amanda May said she couldn't head into the emergency room at Beaumont's Royal Oak hospital like normal. After parking, she and her child waited in line outside. She urged others seeking care that she had an emergency and flagged down medics who rushed her inside holding Luke. They quickly placed ice packs under his armpits and took him for a chest X-ray.

"The longer it went — she kept updating me that (doctors) really think it is coronavirus — I started to get more concerned, and you feel a sense of helplessness because there's only so much you can do as a parent when you see your kids like that," Ryan said.

With an IV administering five liters of fluid, two rounds of medicine and suppositories, Luke's temperature dropped to 104.5 nearly six hours later. By morning, his fever had dropped to 101. Luke showed no signs of pneumonia and his oxygen levels were perfect, his parents said.

Within 24 hours, Luke's COVID-19 test result returned. Positive.

Still, after Luke's sweating decreased and his fever remained steady at 101, doctors offered the family the option of going home due to the hospital "being a Petri dish" with a handful of cases of influenza and H1N1 that would compromise Luke's already-vulnerable immune system, they said.

Luke tested negative for all other infections and, as of Sunday, Luke's fever is near normal with the help of Tylenol and Motrin. Amanda May has had a fever and has been resting through the weekend, Ryan said.

Ryan and Amanda May don't dwell on the thought of what would have happened if they hadn't acted as quickly as they did. They say they're just happy to be home.

"Doctors told us that with that temperature, any longer before bringing him into the hospital he's at a much higher risk for seizure and brain damage," Ryan said. "There's a lot of people who are, unfortunately, losing loved ones, and as long as we can keep Luke healthy, we're lucky."

Dr. Rudolph Valentini, Chief Medical Officer at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, told The Detroit News not many children have been hospitalized due to the virus.

"The children we're seeing are mildly symptomatic with low-grade and moderate fevers or a slight cough and most of the time they don't go to the hospital," Valentini said. "As long as they're well hydrated and not vomiting, parents are opting-in to staying at home.

"It's much worse for adults who are seeking care. We anticipate about 20% of adults are going to be pretty affected and we're not really seeing that spread of activity in pediatric," he added.

They hospital is recommending a face covering for children under 2-years-old because they can't control their sneezes and coughs in public. Most children tend to do well at home, but co-infections can be worrisome, he said.

"About 10-20% of patients have more than one infections and it will be additive to their sickness," Valentini said. "Everyone's immune system can be a little bit different. Children are underdeveloped and those that catch a mild form of COVID-19 are mostly otherwise healthy. We just don't want them mingling with their grandparents, who are more at risk."

The family's plan is to quarantine, like they were, until all symptoms disappear and likely, much longer to be safe.

But they still wonder where Luke contracted the virus. The family began quarantining and working from home on March 13, more than 10 days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's March 24 "Stay Home. Stay Safe. Save Lives" order.

Ryan says they keep things clean since Amanda May is a cancer survivor and still has a compromised immune system.

"It's important to stay vigilant," he said. "We thought we were doing everything that we could to prevent it. We were washing surfaces, we were cleaning hands, leaving mail and packages in the garage, and Luke still got it."

Amanda May says although a positive test might be some parent's worst fear right now, it's best not to panic but rather be prepared.

"It's tough not to worry, but I suggest parents check their children's temperatures every day, if not every hour if possible. That spike came out of nowhere, and you don't want to miss it."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_