Study links COVID-19, rare syndrome in children

CMU pediatrician co-authors New England Journal of Medicine article

It was April 26, 2020, when Dr. Sabrina Heidemann — a Central Michigan University pediatrician based in metro Detroit — first suspected that COVID-19 exposure might cause a rare and serious inflammatory disease in children.

That realization soon led her to co-author a research article published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine exploring MIS-C: multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

The researchers found that MIS-C can threaten previously healthy children and adolescents.

Dr. Sabrina Heidemann

"It became apparent there were children admitted to the pediatric ICU with inflammation affecting the heart and skin, and causing an increase in markers of inflammation," Heidemann said. "I started writing a case report that day. By nighttime, a few of my colleagues started texting about the same suspicions."

Their manuscript explores the cases of 186 MIS-C patients, four of whom died.

Heidemann continues to study MIS-C as part of the COVID-19 investigator group working to better understand the syndrome and treatment.

As director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and co-director of the transport team at Detroit Medical Center's Children's Hospital of Michigan, Heidemann is a member of the new Detroit-based CMU Clinical Research Institute, a partnership between CMU's College of Medicine and University Pediatricians to improve children's health care across Michigan through research. She has been an attending physician at Children's Hospital since 1992.

Heidemann shared more about the research:

What is MIS-C, and how is it tied to COVID-19?

In MIS-C, inflammation of all or some of the organs may be involved, including the heart, lungs, bowel, liver, brain and kidneys. We know that children with this syndrome either had the virus or were exposed to people who had COVID-19.

How would you sum up your findings? What should families know?

The findings from this study are that MIS-C can lead to serious and life-threatening disease in previously healthy children and adolescents. I would advise that children and adolescents with persistent fever, skin rash, belly pain or vomiting, confusion, or headache be evaluated by their physician. There is treatment for MIS-C to limit inflammation.

What has your role been on the team of researchers?

Michigan was an epicenter for COVID-19 in March and April. As a consequence, the pediatric ICU saw over 20 cases of MIS-C from March through May. I joined the COVID-19 investigators, submitted my cases to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and reviewed the manuscript prior to publication.

Why is it important to have this research published in the New England Journal of Medicine?

I feel that the research from the COVID-19 investigators is an important finding and am glad that it was recognized in this important journal. Awareness of the illness will help parents recognize the disease earlier and bring their children to medical attention sooner.

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