Baby's Brain Swells After Catching COVID

A baby in Nebraska has suffered brain swelling after catching COVID.

Four-month-old Cullen and his mother, father and two siblings came down with COVID in mid-November. Soon after the family members tested positive, Cullen showed the symptoms of brain swelling, his mother Hillary Whitton wrote on a GoFundMe page to raise money for her son's medical expenses.

Over the space of a few hours, Whitton said the soft spot on Cullen's head was "visibly protruding" and he developed a rash across his face and body that would "come and go."

Cullen stopped feeding, "was very upset and in obvious discomfort," she said. He was rushed to the local hospital, and airlifted to Denver Children's Hospital over six hours away.

Doctors diagnosed Cullen with brain swelling due to COVID, the first such case at their hospital. He had developed what is known as a bulging fontanel, where a baby's soft spot outwardly curves. Cause of a bulging fontanel can include swelling caused by infections.

His mother said the family is "unaware of what the future may hold for him, his treatment plan or how long this will continue." The family must measure the circumference of his head every two hours to check the swelling does not worsen. If it does, Cullen must be airlifted to Denver again for treatment.

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Baby Cullen has suffered brain swelling after catching COVID. Hillary Whitton

Whitton said the family were relieved that Cullen started feeding again three weeks after falling ill, but still showed signs of swelling and discomfort. Cullen was still struggling with symptoms on December 12, according to an update on his GoFundMe page.

"While he is seeming to be doing better at this time, we are not out of the woods yet and are unsure what this means for our son's future. The doctors have asked us to follow up with a pediatric neurologist to continue his monitoring and see what damage may have resulted from this," Whitton said.

"We've been warned this could be a long road and potentially have lifelong effects for Cullen. But we are staying positive and hopeful for his full recovery.

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Photos taken 36 hours apart show Cullen's soft spot protruding. Hillary Whitton

So far the family has raised $3,976 for their son. Whitton thanked her community in an email to Newsweek for "pulling together to help us" by delivering groceries, meals, and medication.

Whitton told Newsweek doctors performed multiple tests to confirm Cullen's condition was linked to COVID: "We received input from multiple doctors and got second, third, forth, and even fifth opinions as we wanted to be certain what we were dealing with. Cullen tested positive for COVID-19 four days before the swelling began."

She said: "My advice to parents is to immediately get their child to a hospital as a bulging fontanel can sometimes lead to brain bleeds and be very dangerous."

Children can catch and spread COVID, but they appear less likely to get sick complications or die than adults. But some do get seriously ill and, in rare cases, die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease. Children under one and those with certain underlying conditions like asthma and diabetes are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill.

Whitton said: "I want parents to know that this is so much more than the flu or common cold and children can most certainly be affected.

"Our entire family of five, three children, my husband and myself, were all in a great deal of pain, had difficulty breathing, cough, etc. You name it we had it. Except fevers. None of us ever had a fever, yet we all tested positive. I think there is a big misconception that you must have a fever to have COVID-19, and that is simply not the case. "

This article has been updated with comment from Hillary Whitton