COVID risk hits local family harder than most
Emergency visit to Children's reminds family of why they mask up and distance
Last updated 9/16/2020 at 11:08am
It was just a cold, but it meant a visit to Children's Hospital for 3-year-old Finn Botts.
The boy's mother, Alisha Mitchell-Botts, is a Jackson High School graduate who grew up in Mays Pond. It was 15 long miles weaving through traffic from their Bothell home to get to Children's urgent care North Clinic in Everett, on Aug. 6.
Alisha said as she drove, she was thinking, "What if he stops breathing? What if we don't make it in time?"
Finn was in the back seat, under the watchful eye of his father, Howie Botts.
A cold is all it takes for Finn to need a nebulizer. The couple was Albuterol, at their home in Bothell. The small 7-by-7 machine mists the medication into the lungs, through a mouth-piece. It soaks into lung tissue to normalize breathing. The directions were to use it every four hours.
"It wasn't working," Alisha remembered.
Finn's diaphragm was sinking into his chest, and his breath was rapid, Alisha said, both signs of respiratory distress. Finn's parents know the signs that require emergency care, because they have watched Brastin, their 12-year-old middle child, go through respiratory issues. He grew out of it in adolescence, she said.
Alisha had preeclampsia while pregnant with Brastin, the middle child in the family who was born three-and-a-half weeks early. After being kept in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for two weeks, he was able to go home. Shortly after arriving home, Brastin caught a cold. After turning blue, Alisha called the ambulance and later found out it was a case of RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). Brastin had several years of respiratory issues, after that which resulted in nebulizer usage for years to come.
Leneyah, 14, the family's oldest child, had just had a cold before her brother did, so they had her tested for COVID-19.
"She tested negative. I think if we would not have had her tested before Finn got sick, I would have been more nervous," Alisha said.
Alisha anticipated a negative test for Finn, once they got to Children's. Their life is cloistered enough, distant from crowds whenever possible and cautious when in them. They take enough action to protect one another that the household cold was predictable. The family stays vigilant with hand-washing and cleaning surfaces.
Given Finn's health risks, they chose to avoid the emergency room.
"I didn't want to expose him to anything other than what he had already," Alisha said.
Howie remembers the day. His thoughts were the same as Alisha's – "Are we going to make it in time?" Once there, Howie waited in the car, because only one parent could go in.
"Alisha would send me pictures" of Finn, while he was on the hospital nebulizer and getting steroids. In 15 minutes, the hospital nebulizer with Albuterol and added meds at a higher strength worked and he got his energy back and was talking, Alisha recalled.
"It was a giant relief to know he's OK now," Howie said, remembering his son coming outside of the hospital, happy and walking, with a sucker in this mouth.
When the pandemic hit, the Botts family went into it aware that Finn had higher risk, if he contracts COVID-19, and that Brastin had a risk in the past. COVID-19 can attack both upper and lower respiratory systems, and in people with underlying illnesses like the one Finn has, the virus has a higher likelihood of leading to hospitalization, internal organ damage, or death.
Underlying illnesses that may lead to higher risk include lung and heart disease, immune disorders such as diabetes, and being over the age of 60. And in some rare cases, severe illness has taken medical professionals by surprise.
Finn will be 4 on Sept. 17.
Alisha grew up in Mays Pond. She and Howie met in June 2011, and he adopted Brastin and Leneyah four years later. Their family calendar is always packed, with commitments to softball practice and soccer. Prior to the COVID-19 sheltering orders, they rarely spent an evening at home. They were out and about five days a week.
But the risk was serious, so they didn't push back on public health advice.
"A lot has changed" since the pandemic hit, because her family has underlying illnesses to consider.
Alisha has a sanitizing spray bottle in her purse at all times, because not all stores always provide sanitizer.
"Definitely more hand-washing, more sanitizing," she said. "At first I didn't put Finn in a mask because I guess, more or less, I didn't think he'd keep them on."
Finn saw his whole family wearing masks, and he wanted one too. "So, we went and bought him some that fit his little face," Alisha said.
Finn has reactive airway disease, and asthma, and coughs often.
"We get a lot of dirty looks when we go out in public, like I'm bringing the disease out into the world," Alisha said. Finn found a way to ease fears, though, she said. When he coughs and someone looks their way, "he says, 'don't worry, I have asthma,'" his mother says.
In spite of her family's higher risk, she stays calm. She said social media and nonstop news-immersion may be leading to more fear, and some people are lashing out as a result.
"It's almost caused another thing to divide people," she said.
She has heard comments in public about things that would usually not be considered anyone else's concern. While waiting in line at the store recently, a woman was glaring at her, so Alisha pointed to the marker on the floor, "I am in my space" she said, indicating her stance on a socially distant marker. The woman staring at her said, "OK, I was just checking."
In another incident, a stranger told her, "You're a really good Mom because you have him in a mask." She said she thought, "'Really? It's not because I keep him alive every day?' Different comments like that -- mostly from the older generation."
In spite of some very real risks in her home, Alisha said, "I am not immobilized by fear." She gives a bit of advice to those who are, and are lashing out as a result.
"Quit judging others," she said, adding "I don't give other people dirty looks."
Howie processes it differently, and says he struggles to avoid clashes on social media, when people dismiss the danger of a germ that could threaten his family. He works as an elevator mechanic for Thyssen Krupp at the Microsoft campus, where all protocols are followed regarding masks and social distance. He takes extra steps, sanitizing his phone before he walks in the door, because Finn grabs it to watch videos.
"It's really stressful," he said of the pandemic.
Still, the two are aware of the brighter side of these strange times. The limits on public outings are in some ways a positive, Alisha said.
"We do take precautions," she said. "(But) we still go out for walks. We still hike," she said. "If anything, it's brought us closer together." Before the pandemic, "we didn't have time to sit down and have dinner" together, she said. They were "always on the go."
Now the kids spend more time together. Evenings are more relaxed. She said the togetherness may be good for people, overall. "It's a reset for people's minds."
As they move ahead and continue to protect their family, Alisha occasionally posts on social media. Photos of happy moments with family, past photos from times when her older kids were much smaller.
In one post, she took a quiz to find out her "dog personality." She was deemed a German Shepherd – intelligent, steadfast, focused on the mission. The quiz says: "One of your best qualities is your unwavering loyalty to your friends and family. You'll do anything for the ones you love!"