A 3-year-old boy in Pennsylvania was diagnosed with a dangerous and debilitating tick-borne disease after his mom spotted a tick while he went swimming in the neighbor’s pool.
On June 15th, Jonny Simoson was invited to join a “neighborhood bestie” at his pool. “Jonny never turns down a chance for a swim so we headed over!” the toddler’s mom, Jamie, said in a Facebook post.
As the kids had fun, Jamie noticed something on his back. “A DREADED tick,” she wrote. Given that Jonny’s older sister Jessica was diagnosed with Lyme disease three years ago, the mom had become something of an expert in detecting the little creatures.
“We successfully removed the non-embedded or engorged tick and wrapped up our swim date with some surprise S’mores,” Jamie said about the seemingly uneventful day on Facebook.
“He didn’t necessarily have any marks on his back shoulder until a few days later; there was just a tiny red bump. That was it,” Jamie added to the The New York Post.
Two weeks later, however, Jonny’s daycare noticed he was acting differently: “he was mopey, had no appetite and complaining of a headache,” Jamie posted on Facebook.
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Over the next two days, the toddler’s symptoms kept worsening. After taking him to the pediatrician, Johnny started taking medication but woke up that night with a fever, The New York Post reported. “We called the doctor the very next morning, and I said he’s sleeping a lot and that’s really not like him,” Simoson told the outlet.
Days later, Jonny’s fever spiked above 104 degrees and his family decided to take him to the hospital. According to the outlet, his elevated white blood cell count swelled to 30,000.
Suspicions of bacterial and viral meningitis later arose due to neutrophils – a type of white blood cell that acts as the immune system’s first responders – in his cord fluid. Soon after, the diagnoses were ruled out, however.
After being transferred to a specialty children’s hospital, doctors were still at a dead end. “Things got really scary at that point,” Simoson told the New York Post. “It was so frustrating searching for an answer. We were terrified that we might not be coming home with our child.”
An answer was finally given on Jonny’s fifth day of being unresponsive after doctors conducted an MRI and diagnosed him with meningoencephalitis – an infection of both the brain and the thin tissue that surrounds it, The New York Post reported.
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The diagnosis was then followed by a night of intravenous immunoglobulin, a treatment for patients with antibody deficiencies. Incredibly, within 15 hours of his first dose, Jonny was awake and talking.
“It was amazing. That was the first time since the whole situation started that my husband and I both just completely broke down,” she told the outlet.
After 12 days in the hospital recovering, Jonny was finally discharged.
“Johnny was still not walking, and his balance was poor,” Simoson told the New York Post. “We knew we had a ton of work to do but were up for the challenge.”
Three days after he was discharged, Jonny tested positive for Powassan virus – a rare and dangerous tick-borne disease. According to the CDC, there were just 194 reported cases of the virus in the U.S. from 2011 to 2020.
Speaking to PEOPLE on Saturday, Jamie shared that Jonny is now “doing well and appears to be recovering well.”
She added, “Since there are not a lot of confirmed cases, we are nervous about what his future might hold and the potential long-term effects but overall pleased with his progress.” The proud mom also added that he got back to swimming and to “being his crazy, fun self.”
“We are working through what seems to be some small setbacks but confident we have found adequate resources to help us through them,” she told PEOPLE.
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Most of all, the family wants to raise awareness for everyone out there, especially parents. “We want everyone to be aware of the real risks associated with tick-borne illnesses and be vigilant when it comes to prevention and symptom recognition,” she said. “A tiny tick could have taken our sweet boy from us. We are so lucky to be able to share his story.”
She added, “If it reaches just one person and helps get them treatment sooner, what we went through will all be worth it.” The family has created a Facebook page to spread awareness and share Jonny’s recovery.
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