'Sweet' Girl, 7, Dies of COVID After Virus Triggers Rare Immune Disorder

A 7-year-old girl from Tennesse died on Monday as the result of complications arising from COVID.

Adalyn Rita Graviss, a second grader at Rocky Hill Elementary School in Knoxville, suffered from Raynaud's syndrome, which her mother told Knox News doctors believe led to COVID triggering an auto-immune disorder known as Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM).

Jennifer Kowalski-Graviss explained that her daughter had developed a low-grade fever on Friday and her condition worsened very rapidly. She said: "It was within hours. Her body just couldn't fight it."

On Saturday, Adalyn Rita Graviss was admitted to East Tennessee Children's Hospital. She was then transferred to Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital in Nashville, on Monday.

On January 28, shortly before the 7-year-old passed away, Adalyn was celebrating the birth of her little sister Ella, spending just a few days with her before she had to isolate.

Adalyn's kindergarten teacher at Rocky Hill, Holly Pace, told Knox News: "She talked about it nonstop. She was so proud."

Pace is the organizer of a GoFundMe appeal which aims to raise money to help support the Graviss family and cover the costs of a memorial service for the Rocky Hill Elementary School student.

Created on Tuesday, as of Wednesday the fundraiser had already doubled its goal of $15,000, with 460 donors raising almost $31,000 for the family.

On the GoFundMe page, Pace wrote: "Sweet Adalyn Rita Graviss gained her angel wings last night after a brief and courageous battle with Covid that triggered ADEM, an autoimmune response and shut her tiny body down. Adalyn just had her dream come true last week when her baby sister was born."

How Is ADEM Linked to COVID?

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, ADEM is a brief but intense swelling of the brain and the spinal cord that is triggered when "the body's immune system mistakenly identifies its own healthy cells and tissues as foreign and mounts an attack against them."

The inflammation caused by ADEM damages the insulating coating of nerve fibers called myelin. When myelin is damaged, electrical impulses that carry messages to and from the brain are impaired or even stopped altogether.

Children are more likely to develop ADEM than adults with more than 80 percent of childhood cases occurring in the under 10s, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. ADEM will affect around one in between 125,000 to 250,000 people per year, with around 5 percent of cases triggered by vaccinations.

Becker's Hospital Review says that in 50 to 75 percent of ADEM cases, the condition is triggered by a viral infection. A paper published in November 2021 says that since the onset of the COVID pandemic, a link between the virus and ADEM has been "well-established."

The research published by NCBI said that at of the time of publication, only four cases of ADEM associated with COVID vaccines had been reported, with no fatalities.

Another paper, published in the journal Annals of Medicine and Surgery at the same time, documenting the case of a 38-year-old woman who developed ADEM after a COVID infection, pointed out that such cases are still extremely rare with only dozens recorded since the pandemic began.

Symptoms of ADEM include nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, weakness, sensory changes, unsteadiness, trouble swallowing, trouble seeing and seizures.

These symptoms can develop very quickly, Becker's Hospital Review says, which seems to have been the case with Adalyn Rita Graviss. The neighbor of the Graviss family, Deanna Ford, told Knox News that the 7-year-old had initially been sick with a fever but was in good spirits.

Ford said: "She was really fine until suddenly she wasn't. It's really unbelievable."

Pace offered a tribute to Adalyn Rita Graviss, telling Knox News: "Every kiddo (in the school) gravitated to her. She was just gentle and had a light about her."

COVID Child
A stock image of a child in a hospital bed. A 7-year-old from Knoxville passed away after COVID triggered a rare auto-immune disorder. Golfcuk/GETTY