'It was almost an instant thing': 4-year-old girl regains sight after being temporarily blinded by the flu

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Jade DeLucia went blind after developing complications from Influenza B. Images via GoFundMe.

A 4-year-old girl has regained her eyesight after complications from the flu left her temporarily blind.

In Dec. 2019, Jade DeLucia developed a severe case of Influenza B, which caused her to spend nearly two weeks in intensive care. Her parents, Amanda Phillips and Stephen DeLucia, found Jade unresponsive on Dec. 23, and rushed her to Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, Iowa. Upon their arrival, Jade began to seize and was flown by helicopter the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, approximately 130 kms away.

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“I didn’t think I was going to see her again at that point,” Philipps told CNN of the moment she saw the helicopter take off. “I really didn’t. Just from looking at her, I really, honestly, didn’t think I was going to see her.”

Jade DeLucia was hospitalized for two weeks after suffering complications from the flu. Image via GoFundMe.

On Christmas Day, Doctors informed Phillips and DeLucia that the flu had caused severe brain disfunction, known as encephalopathy, resulting in “significant brain damage.”

“They said our child might not ever wake up, and if she did, she might not ever be the same,” Phillips said.

The official diagnosis of acute necrotizing encephalopathy (ANE) was given by Dr. Theresa Czech, a pediatric neurologist, on Dec. 31. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, ANE typically develops secondary to viral infections, the most common being Influenza A, Influenza B and human herpes virus 6, but can also be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Symptoms often include fever, respiratory infection, seizures, periods of unconsciousness which may progress to a coma and liver problems.

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Jade regained consciousness on Jan. 1, and was soon taken off her breathing tube and was able to eat on her own. However, just days later, Phillips noticed that Jade wasn’t looking at her beloved stuffed animal, a white unicorn, even when it was placed directly in front of her face.

Upon examination, an ophthalmologist determined that Jade’s eyes were perfectly fine, but the ANE had impacted the part of her brain responsible for vision.

Czech told Jade’s parents she was unsure if their daughter would ever regain her eyesight, but that doctors would likely know more within three to six months. She was also unable to tell Phillips and DeLucia whether or not Jade would experience any cognitive or developmental problems.

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“She’s lucky to be alive,” Czech told CNN. “She’s a little fighter. And I think she’s super lucky.”

Jade reunited with her older sister, Catalina, after being diagnosed on Jan. 9. The family was doing their best to manage Jade’s recovery and help her adjust to living with visual impairment when their prayers were answered.

Jade DeLucia regained consciousness on Jan. 1 after she was diagnosed with brain disease caused by viral infection, known as encephalopathy. Image via GoFundMe.

According to Phillips, the family noticed Jade was walking to the bathroom on her own, without bracing herself by touching the walls.

The family decided to test Jade by asking her where her uncle was, and was thrilled when she walked to him.

“From there, it was almost an instant thing,” she said. “She’s doing really good.”

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The family is still unsure of the longterm effects of ANE and is waiting on test results to see if Jade has a genetic disposition to the disease, which could lead to more seizures in her future.

On “Jade’s Journey,” a Facebook group set up by friends to chronicle Jade’s recovery, friend Courtney Frey writes that there is still a long way to go before Jade makes a full recovery.

“She is not the great independent conversationalist who knows her numbers and letters, but we are continuing to believe and hope for a full recovery,” Frey told followers. “She is full of love, giggles and snuggles and is an incredible light. We don’t take that for granted!”

Jade’s family said they shared their daughter’s story in hopes of encouraging parents to be diligent about flu vaccines.

Although both Jade and her sister received a flu shot during an annual check-up last March, Phillips said she didn’t know the girls needed another vaccine at the start of the new 2019-2020 flu season. Phillips believed the flu shot was good for the entire year.

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Dr. Adam Ratner, a paediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, told CNN that flu shots are vital in preventing life-threatening complications, and minimizing the effect of the flu virus.

“I’m less interested in whether the vaccine prevents all cases of runny noses and feeling cruddy and having to stay home from school because of the flu,” Ratner said. “That’s no fun, but you get the vaccine not so much to prevent that as to prevent the chance of having horrible complications from the flu.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that everyone over 6 months old should receive the flu shot in early fall or by the end of October, before flu season begins. The vaccine takes approximately two weeks to take effect, but can still be beneficial if administered throughout the flu season.

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