COVINGTON, La. — As her desperately sick daughter was being airlifted to a hospital, Jennifer Daly was thinking about all the parts of life that still lay ahead for her 12-year-old and whether she’d ever experience them: Would she get to fall in love? Would she get the chance to get married and have her own children?
Driving across the causeway that separates the family’s home north of Lake Pontchartrain from the New Orleans hospital where their daughter was taken — with what was later determined to be a coronavirus infection — she was forced to imagine a life without her Juliet.
“She’s the sweetest girl. She’s the sweetest girl in the whole world. And she does not deserve this. And I was praying to God ... just please, please help, please help me,” said Jennifer, speaking from the family’s Covington home Thursday, with her husband Sean and their now-recovered daughter.
As Juliet and her 5-year-old brother spar with each other using pool noodles, it’s hard to imagine that just last month Juliet was fighting for her life. At one point she had a heart attack and doctors had to perform CPR for two minutes before she came back.
“I died and came back,” Juliet said.
Her coronavirus journey didn’t start with many of the symptoms that have affected adults — breathing problems, for example. She had stomach pain and vomiting, and her mother, who’s a radiologist, thought maybe it was appendicitis or some type of stomach problem. But Juliet's lips were also turning blue and her limbs were cold.
Juliet quickly ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital. There, she had a heart attack, underwent CPR, and was eventually airlifted to Ochsner Medical Center. Dr. Jake Kleinmahon was one of the doctors who was there to meet her and care for her over the next ten days.
“Juliet came in as one of the sickest children we’ve taken care of with COVID-19,” said Kleinmahon. The top chamber of her heart was not working correctly with the bottom chamber, and she was developing “multisystem organ failure,” he said.
Kleinmahon said children with coronavirus infections often have different symptoms than adults, such as the abdominal problems Juliet had, or rashes in other cases. He said many children also have another virus besides the coronavirus and that was the case with Juliet.
For most people, the virus causes no, mild or moderate symptoms, but some suffer severe disease and even death.
Juliet was on a ventilator for four days, during which she was sedated and then was eventually able to breathe on her own. She was discharged on April 15. The doctor said her heart function is now completely normal. Although she likely has a little trauma to her heart that should decrease over time, he expects she’ll have a “totally normal life.”
When she regained consciousness, her parents said she immediately worried about missing school. Her mother said that when she told Juliet what had happened, her eyes got as big as saucers.
“At first I was freaking out a lot,” Juliet said. And then she was worried about whether there were any lasting effects to her body.
Jennifer said she and her husband hadn’t known anyone who’d even been infected with coronavirus until their daughter became so drastically ill. If they hadn’t gotten her to the hospital in time, they don’t know if she’d be alive today. She’s glad Juliet doesn’t remember those four days on a ventilator — days Jennifer will never forget.
“All she remembers is daddy telling her she’s going to go to sleep. ‘They’re going to put a tube down your throat. You’re gonna go on a helicopter ride. You’re gonna wake up in a new hospital and mommy will be there’” said Jennifer. “Well, that’s what happened.”