At a Children’s Hospital, a Wave of Young Patients Struggling to Breathe

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Seeing children in the rooms that she cleans suffer, she said, was “overwhelming.”

Behind her, beeping screens monitoring the low blood oxygen levels and alarmingly high heart rates of the children told the story.

Nearby, medical teams were watching over an intubated toddler. The patient eventually needed a rare treatment known as high-frequency oscillatory ventilation, which involves gentle vibrations that move air around in the lungs. By Thursday, with the odds of survival fading, a small crown was placed on the child’s head.

Down the hall, there was better news: Junior’s condition was improving.

His path to intubation had been swift. His sister, 15 months old, came down with what seemed to be a mild cold. Before long, Junior’s day care reported that he was gagging when drinking from a bottle. The family’s pediatrician diagnosed him with R.S.V. and prescribed albuterol, an asthma medication that had little effect on him.

A day later, Ms. Perrilloux, who along with her husband is fully vaccinated, drove him to the hospital. “As soon as I brought him in, they noticed right off the bat, something was off,” she said. He tested positive for Covid-19 and struggled to breathe even on a high-flow oxygen machine. He was intubated the next day.

Ms. Perrilloux began working during the long days in the room, to keep herself from shaking.

“You’re sitting there, thinking, ‘What could I have done differently?’” she said.

Last week, Ms. Perrilloux slept and ate in her son’s room. She held daily prayer sessions with her pastor and family. At bedtime, she smoothed Junior’s curly brown hair gently to avoid interfering with the machinery that was keeping him alive. She positioned her chair to observe the monitors tracking his vital signs, wrapping herself in hospital blankets.