For 17-year-old David Vargas of the Bronx, it started with flu-like symptoms: fever, headaches, body aches.
Then, he woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain and difficulty breathing. The chest pain subsided, then returned. It was time to go to the hospital.
Vargas initially tested negative for COVID-19, but his blood showed elevated levels of a protein that indicates a heart injury. Doctors were stumped.
Vargas, it turned out, had been struck by a rare inflammatory illness affecting children that began to emerge in early May. Now termed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, doctors believe it's tied to COVID-19. City officials have identified 174 cases in New York City as of Thursday. Three children in the state have died.
Though they generally respond well to treatment, children have been falling seriously ill. And like Vargas, they are often perfectly healthy, with no underlying conditions.
"I’ve never been admitted into the hospital. I’ve never spent more than an hour in a hospital before,” he said. "And especially to be admitted into the hospital for cardiac issues is incredibly scary.”
Vargas did subsequently test positive for COVID and spent a week at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, where he filled the hours drawing sketches of hospital staff.
“Drawing is 70 percent of what I do and what I read about and what I watch on YouTube,” Vargas said. But these drawings took life only after an inquiry from a hospital staffer.
“A social worker came by asking what I enjoy doing,” hd said. "And the next day she comes back with colored pencils and sketch books. And I spent all my whole time drawing.”
While Vargas has recovered, he’s still under some restrictions. He takes blood thinners twice daily, and was told to refrain from exercise for six months. Doctors said he’s at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
But he counts himself among the lucky ones.
“I’m so, so grateful that I spent only a week in the hospital,” he said. "And I’m back home with my family.