Thousands of kids in Alberta can experience one before they celebrate their fifth birthday, yet many parents don’t know what it is, never mind what to do when it happens.
“It’s common and it doesn’t get talked about a lot,” Karima Merali-Gangji, a mother of two, said.
Febrile seizures, or seizures that occur during a fever, can occur in three to five per cent of kids under five, according to the director of pediatric emergency at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Earlier this year, Merali-Gangji’s toddler son Kayden experienced four febrile seizures over the course of two hours.
“What the neurologist said was … it wasn’t a typical one,” she explained.
Kayden, who was 18 months old at the time, seemed fine that morning so Merali-Gangji sent him to sport ball with his dad while she went to work at her chiropractic clinic. Soon after, she received a panicked call from her husband.
“He’s carrying Kayden, went to go drop a piece of garbage into the bathroom and all of a sudden Kayden starts shaking,” she explained. “He screamed at sport ball for help.”
Merali-Gangji met her son and husband and the family went to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.
“They said, ‘We’re going to take him in, he’s very feverish,'” she said, adding they stripped off Kayden’s clothes and put cold packs on his skin.
By the time they were half way to the Stollery Children’s Hospital, Kayden had another seizure. He had two more within the next hour.
Merali-Gangji and her husband were terrified.
“What’s going on? Why is this happening to my son? What have I done wrong? What didn’t I see? Is my son going to die?”
Dr. Bruce Wright, director for pediatric emergency at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, said his department sees at least 10 cases of febrile seizures each week.
“We see it quite commonly because it’s very frightening to parents,” Wright said. He said the only predictor of febrile seizures is family history.
“The first thing is remain calm. It’s not going to cause any harm to the child. It won’t cause any brain damage that parents worry about immediately.”
Wright said the majority of febrile seizures last no longer than a minute. He tells parents to take the following steps: stay calm, make sure the child is in a safe place and positioned on their side, monitor them during the seizure and then check in with your doctor.
“There is a recurrence, so if your child is less than the age of one, approximately 50 per cent of kids will have another febrile seizure with another febrile illness. If you’re over the age of two it’s about 30 per cent.”
That has led to a lot of anxiety for Merali-Gangji. She said doctors ran numerous tests on Kayden, including blood work, a CT scan and an EEG. They determined three viruses caused the fever which prompted the seizure. She said they warned that Kayden could experience another febrile seizure, triggered by a different virus.
“Me and my husband were like, ‘Oh my God, every time he has a fever we have to watch for this.'”
In the six months since his episode, Merali-Gangji said Kayden has had a few fevers but hasn’t had one seizure. While she worries it will happen again, she said she feels better prepared.
“You can’t prepare to see your son’s eyes go up in his head and shake, but being prepared and knowing what to look for now has reassured me that if it does happen I know what to do.”