Doctors concerned about long-term effects of COVID-19 on children

Doctors at Memorial Hermann say they’re seeing an alarming number of children who can't function the way they used to after contracting COVID-19, and they are concerned about possible damage to their hearts.

We caught up with a young athlete who couldn't even walk up a few stairs without getting out of breath.

Nick Parvizian, 13, was diagnosed with COVID-19 the first of November. It started with typical symptoms of fever, cough, and fatigue. He’s relieved to be feeling like himself again after being isolated in his bedroom.

"I was really scared because I didn't know what would happen, because I was just like, sitting in bed, wondering if I'll be okay, because I didn't know what would happen next. Every time I went up the stairs I could not breathe after, and I felt kind of weird because every time I took a deep breath, I couldn't go all the way in," explains Nick.

That's when they headed to Memorial Hermann. Nick's nine-year-old brother was also diagnosed with the virus.

"One thing we were concerned about was the heart, and both of the kids are athletes. They play soccer and they play year-around basketball, so we wanted to make sure their hearts are healthy and they're able to fully return to sports. That's why we received an evaluation by the pediatric cardiologist. We got good news, and they were cleared to go back to sports," says Nick’s mother, Silen Pahlavan.

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She's not alone in her concerns. Doctors at Memorial Hermann have seen other children struggling to fully recover.

"I had a patient who I saw over the summer who was otherwise a healthy teenager. The young lady was an avid runner, who had been running up to five or six miles per day, and now is still struggling to just walk across a room in her house, just feeling so tired and so exhausted. She's slowly making good steps and fortunately her cardiac evaluation was actually normal, but just the presentation of the symptoms has been pretty alarming," states Pediatric Cardiologist with Memorial Hermann Dr. Tal Gospin.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports heart damage from COVID-19 in children as young as two months old.

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Initial reports also showed up to 28% of adults suffered heart damage, many had a pre-existing condition.

Dr. Gospin says it's important to note that many children do only have mild symptoms with COVID, and can be treated in the comforts of home, but she encourages parents to closely monitor their children and have open conversations about it.

"Some of them will try to hide their symptoms because they don't want to be restricted, and I tell them all the time that it's really important that they're honest, so that we can make sure they're safe to do what they want to do," states Dr. Gospin.    

Dr. Gospin recommends a heart scan or chest X-ray when children don’t recover from COVID quickly. 

"Even if they want to do an initial testing like with an EKG I think if those findings are normal, there may not be a need for further testing. I think we just need to use really good judgment and not necessarily blanketly screen everyone, but certainly if there is a concern, we can give families that peace of mind, I don't think that's a bad thing, we just have to do it judiciously," says Dr. Gospin.

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It helped Nick and his family!  The boys are fully healed and cleared for sports!

"My brother was so happy," laughs Nick. "Everybody was counting down the day until the cardiology appointments came, so they could get cleared for cardiology so they can get back to their sports," smiles Silen.

Nick is thrilled to be ending the year on a healthy note, while raising awareness for others.     

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