Children as COVID long-haulers: One boy’s long fight with the virus

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CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (WGN) – COVID long-haulers are not just grown-ups. Although rare, children can suffer from similar after effects of the virus.

For one Illinois family, it’s been a long road with no relief in sight.

Like a typical 7th grader, Ian Varys tries to focus on his homework. But unlike many kids his age, the 12-year-old is battling chronic and debilitating pain.

“My headache and stomachache are hurting all the time,” he said. “Well, my stomachache comes and goes now, and I always want to throw up sometimes. And I’m a little dizzy.”

The symptoms started in late August 2020. About a week later, Ian tested positive for COVID. He was quarantined for two weeks.

“They tested him again for COVID, he tested negative,” his mother Miriam Varys said. “So we said, ‘This is going to disappear.’”

One year later, they’re still waiting. Ian’s parents Miriam and Jeff Varys thought their son’s condition would improve once the virus cleared.

“It was like exploding. It was so difficult just seeing him dealing with all this,” Miriam Varys said.

“The doctors have given me cocktails of different medicines (and) have given me different medicines, nothing has worked so far,” Ian said. “Some have made the symptoms go away for a little bit.”

By October 2020, a neurologist made the call and determined Ian was a long-hauler.

“He said this is post-COVID, this is long-hauler,” Miriam Varys said. “Then he said, ‘I don’t know what else to do from here.’”

There have been countless trips to the emergency room, even a visit to the Mayo Clinic.

Northwestern medicine pediatrician Dr. Laura Larkner is equally frustrated.

“(Ian has been to) world-renowned institutions in this country, he’s been to pain specialists, and we don’t have a lot of answers for Ian,” she said. “Ian’s been a learning process for all of us.”

There’s little known about young long-haulers, though many of the symptoms align with adults, ranging from loss of taste and smell to chronic fatigue and pain.

“We have no idea which previously healthy children will end up with the long-haul symptoms.” Larkner said. “Unfortunately, Ian’s life has been turned upside down and we can’t tell him or his parents when life will be back to normal for him.”

For now, the Varys family is speaking out with the hope their story will inspire others to help stop the spread of COVID and help find answers for the youngest patients.

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“(We want) to bring the attention that the long-haulers need help because all the attention is for people over 18,” Miriam Varys said. “There is nothing for the children. And we have knocked on every door that you can imagine.”

“I just want to help other kids,” Ian said. “I don’t want younger kids to feel this much pain.”

Ian’s doctor has been following adult long-haul findings hoping to learn more about the chronic condition. Just recently, a pediatric COVID long-haul clinic opened in Baltimore to help address the growing number of cases in kids. 

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