‘She is perfect:’ Baby survives RSV; mother warns others about the disease

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- There's a common disease that can spread between you and your infant by simply getting too close. Though it seems like nothing more than a cold, for some it can lead to serious problems, possibly even death.

Most children under two contract respiratory syncytial virus, and it's most dangerous for babies under 10 months.

That's what happened to Violet Elizabeth McConnell. "She's perfect," her mother, Megan Kennedy, said as she gazed at Violet's little button nose, which is hard for Kennedy not to kiss.

Violet Elizabeth Kennedy

Violet Elizabeth McConnell

"Maybe the best way to show them love is to not be in their face, not to be right on them," Kennedy said. "Keep your distance."

That's advice she wishes she had a year ago, when Violet came down with RSV at just 5 weeks old. At the time, Kennedy knew nothing about the disease. She says Violet had a cough that sounded different, and that she started acting kind of "blah," not wanting to eat.

"Someone could have come in contact with me, and I could have touched her, and she could have gotten it," Kennedy said.

RSV became a mother's worst nightmare. Violet's lungs got so weak, she couldn't breathe.

"That was rough," Kennedy said, wiping away tears. "She was ventilated; she had machines helping her breathe. If we wouldn’t have had that, she would have died."

Kennedy now credits a team of doctors at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital for bringing Violet back to good health.

Dr. Tony Olivero at HDCH says RSV affects children specifically because their airways are smaller, but he adds that most children recover from RSV quite well.

Though Violet is doing okay today, Dr. Rosey Olivero, a specialist in pediatric infectious disease, warns that RSV is very contagious. She advises washing your hands often and minimizing exposure to those who might be sick.

"Unfortunately, RSV can be spread in group child care settings and in schools," Olivero said, "If you know there’s an outbreak of RSV, and you’re concerned about your child being more susceptible to infection, it may be a good idea to keep them away from that group child care setting."

Kennedy now takes that advice seriously. "Don’t get hurt feelings if you have a parent during this time of year that says, 'Please don’t come near my child.' It’s nothing personal."

Here are some signs and symptoms your little one might have RSV:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Fast respiratory rate.
  • Bluish hue around the lips.
  • Signs of dehydration.
  • Refusal to eat.
  • Cough.

Doctors say children with the greatest chance of severe RSV are babies born prematurely, children younger than two who were born with heart or lung disease, and children under 10 weeks old.

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