Central Texas teen on the road to recovery after 8-month battle with rare COVID-19 illness

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ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Nikko Dalesandro loves baseball. He loves fishing. The last 8 months he’s just been trying to feel strong enough to do both.

“What I went through, I don’t wish on anyone, not one person in the world,” Nikko said. “It hit me hard.”

In January, the 14-year-old was rushed to Dell Children’s Medical Center after he couldn’t shake a fever. 

He was quickly diagnosed with the rare post-COVID illness called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C. It can cause inflammation to different body parts including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.

Nikko Dalesandro loves fishing and baseball. He’s finally feeling like himself months after a MIS-C diagnosis. (Coutesy David Dalesandro)

“It was terrible. I was in the hospital for four days,” Nikko explained. “I had constant IV, I had this huge lump on my neck. I could barely move my neck. I was constantly sick. I was throwing up. It was not fun.” 

99.9% patients unvaccinated

MIS-C symptoms include ongoing fever, stomach pain, bloodshot eyes, diarrhea, dizziness or lightheadedness, skin rash, and vomiting.

“MIS-C lags between four to six weeks after the surge in COVID. So, I would say in the next two to four weeks we’re going to see a huge increase in MIS-C patients,” explained Dr. Keren Hasbani, a pediatric cardiologist at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

She worries about the surge in the delta variant especially among those between 12 to 17 years old, an age group eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Around the time Nikko was diagnosed, the vaccine for his age group had not been approved yet.

“Many, many children coming in with upper respiratory infection that then progresses to lack of oxygen, which is respiratory failure, about 20 – 25% of our cases have ended up in the ICU,” said Dr. Sarmista B. Hauger, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Dell Children’s Medical Center and associate professor of pediatrics at UT Dell Medical School. “They require intensive therapy monitoring. Some have had to have ventilation with machines to help them.”

She explained that out of all the patients they’ve treated eligible to get the vaccine only one has been vaccinated. ​Dr. Hauger pointed out that even patient’s family members are not vaccinated.

“An adult that’s eligible makes a decision not to vaccinate themselves they are also having downstream sequent consequences for their vulnerable people around them, including young children,” Dr. Hauger said. “Also, you know, I think that people have the view that okay, I won’t get vaccinated for whatever reason. But if I get infected, I can take multiple types of interventions that are available in our community. Again, they are less studied. They’re resource intensive.”

Long-term impacts

Nikko’s parents remember the terrifying days watching their son fight MIS-C. They remember the high fever, the vomiting, the pain he was experiencing and lack of energy.

“We were afraid. I mean, we didn’t know what MIS-C was at the time. And we’re so grateful to Dr. Hauger,” said Nikko’s father David Dalesandro. “As soon as she came in, she looked at three symptoms and immediately said, it’s possible MIS-C, and began treating him as such.”

Nikko Dalesandro will have to have regular monitoring of his heart after the MIS-C diagnosis. (Courtesy Claudia Dalesandro)

They explained that before Nikko’s MIS-C diagnosis he was a healthy and active teen. They now worry about long-term impacts. 

“It’s more of his heart… we checking his heart every six weeks now, we want to make sure nothing has changed,” said Nikko’s mother Claudia Dalesandro.

Dell Children’s is studying long-term impacts and has been part of an international study looking at the inflammatory syndrome in children. 

“The inflammation that happens in the heart doesn’t allow the heart to function as well,” Dr. Hasbani said. “And then the long-term problem with MIS-C is that it affects the coronary arteries, and it can cause them to dilate, and then not be able to function correctly either.”

Dr. Hasbani explained that her team has even treated babies with MIS-C.

“Their moms weren’t vaccinated either. So, they didn’t get the antibodies from their moms. And then the rest of the family wasn’t vaccinated,” she said. “So, one of the things that people don’t recognize is by vaccinating yourself, you are protecting your children that cannot be vaccinated.”

Dell Children's is part of an international study trying to learn more about MIS-C.
More than six hundred children and teens in the United States and Canada are part of the MUSIC study which will help doctors better understand MIS-C and how to treat it.

So far, six patients from Central Texas have enrolled in the MUSIC study, short for Long-Term Outcomes after the MUltisystem Inflammatory Syndrome IChildren.

“The study has also been great in helping us recognize that some of the treatment plans… can also be given very early on, as soon as we realized that the patient has the MIS-C, which is actually prevented some kids from needing to go to the intensive care unit,” said Dr. Hasbani, who is also the principal investigator of the MUSIC Study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also looking into cases in adults and said since June there have been several reports of similarities to what children are experiencing.

The CDC now identifies the illness as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS) and has a section which impacts children (MIS-C) and another one for adults (MIS-A).

One death and more cases 

In August, Austin Public Health said a child died from COVID-19. It’s the first death in the area since the start of the pandemic.

APH said while the child was vaccinated, they had underlying health conditions but wouldn’t release any other details. A spokesperson said that the death was not believed to be MIS-C related.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported in October 2020, one MIS-C death – a teen from the San Antonio area – with underlying health conditions, explained a spokesperson with DSHS. 

Across Texas, updated numbers show 231 confirmed MIS-Cases, up 30 from just two weeks ago.  

The kids and teens ranging in age from 1 month to 18-years old. The data shows that 52% of cases remain to be among those who are Hispanic and 24% among those who are Black.

Nikko’s message

Nikko was recently cleared to get the COVID-19 vaccine from his doctors and he’s hoping by sharing his experience it will help other children and teens. 

Nikko Dalesandro is back in school and playing baseball after his long recovery from MIS-C. (Courtesy Claudia Dalesandro)

“I’m just grateful to still be around and to be here right now,” Nikko said. “I would highly recommend getting the vaccine and wearing a mask. So no one else can suffer how I suffered.”

Claudia and David were diagnosed with COVID-19 in December too and recall being sick for about two weeks. They said Nikko had mild symptoms at first and then about four weeks later it hit him hard. They’re both also vaccinated and were able to get it after it became available for everyone.

“I honestly don’t want to see another parent going through the hospital what we went through especially not knowing what’s happening with your kids,” said Claudia “Please be careful. Take it seriously – wear the mask – get vaccinated if you can.”

The Dalesandro family was able to get vaccinated after it was available. Nikko was recently cleared by his doctors to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Claudia Dalesandro)

Dr. Hasbani and Dr. Hauger, both parents, said the vaccine is the most effective way of not having severe illness.

“Every single day we take risks, what risk are you as a parent wanting to take? Do you want to take the risk that your child will get COVID and may have long-term complications? Or do we want to take the risk of the vaccine that yes, may have some short-term complications such as fever, body aches, soreness, but for the most part is preventing the disease from happening,” Dr. Hasbani said. “And so, as a parent, I see that that risk is significantly lower than the risk of the disease itself.”

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