Four-year-old Jade DeLucia’s parents didn’t know if she’d ever see another Christmas.
The Iowa girl was rushed to hospital just before the holidays last December with a severe case of influenza B, after mom Amanda Phillips found her unresponsive one morning. Jade fell into a coma and spent weeks in hospital before waking up with brain damage and blindness, leaving Phillips unsure if her girl would ever regain her sight.
“Her pupils were basically the size of her entire eye, and she just had a blank look to her face,” Phillips recalled in an interview with local television station KCRG over the weekend. “If you did anything around her eye she wouldn’t respond at all.”
Video posted on Phillips’ Facebook page shows Jade appearing disoriented while a doctor asks her questions. The video was posted before Phillips said she’d regained her eyesight.
Phillips says Jade’s vision started coming back in late January, renewing hopes that the girl would be able to bounce back from the terrifying flu-related episode.
“After a couple weeks of being home, we noticed that she was able to see,” Phillips said. “She was following people around and putting the toilet seat down, and giving high-fives.”
Video recorded by KCRG shows Jade using her eyesight to chase down a stuffed dinosaur.
“I’m really happy that she’s made a good recovery,” said Dr. Theresa Czech, who treated Jade at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Czech says Jade’s issues were caused by a rare complication with the flu — not by the flu itself.
“She had a condition called acute necrotizing encephalopathy, secondary to influenza B,” Czech told KCRG.
Acute necrotizing encephalopathy is a rare disease that usually follows a viral infection and causes brain damage, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, a site run by the U.S. government. Viral symptoms such as fever and respiratory infection are followed by seizures, liver problems and potentially a coma, the site says. The disease can also cause neurological deficits such as robbing a person of the ability to speak or see.
The disease is caused by both environmental and genetic factors and can develop after cases of influenza A, B or human herpesvirus 6, according to the site.
“It’s a rare complication of, essentially, a rare complication,” Czech said.
Czech posed with Jade for a happy photo together last month, after Jade showed signs of regaining her sight during a checkup.
“She’s just such a bright, cheerful girl who’s full of love,” Czech said.
Phillips says Jade did not receive the flu shot. However, she’s been encouraging all parents to get their children vaccinated so they don’t have to go through what she’s faced.
“We weren’t really sure if we were going to lose her,” Phillips said. “You’ve just got to love your babies and hold them dear. You never know what will happen.”
Although Jade’s eyesight has returned, her family worries she may never fully recover from the episode.
“Truth is, our little Jade has changed,” the girl’s grandmother, Courtney Frey, wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to the girl’s health journey last month.
“I am often torn between praise for her survival and grief for what is no more.”
Frey described the good news about Jade’s eyesight as a “miracle” on Monday, in another bittersweet post to the group called Jade’s Journey.
“She at this time is still showing signs of brain damage,” Frey wrote. “She is not the great independent conversationalist who knows her numbers and letters, but we are continuing to believe and hope in her full recovery. She is full of love, giggles, and snuggles and is an incredible light. We don’t take that for granted!”
The family is also grateful for all the community support it has received, including more than US$50,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to cover Jade’s hospital expenses.
Jade is slated to see an eye specialist “to see where her eyesight does fall,” Phillips told CNN. The girl will also take a cognitive test to see how her recovery is progressing. Family and doctors also plan to monitor her development as she prepares to start kindergarten later this year.
In the meantime, Phillips is glad her daughter will see another Christmas, and hopeful that she can continue her incredible recovery.
“It’s just amazing what the brain can do, to heal that kind of damage so she could see again,” Phillips told KCRG on March 6, during an interview at the family home.
She then turned to Jade. “Are you amazing?” she asked the girl.
Jade giggled and replied: “Yes.”