An RSV Story

Sarah was a healthy four-week-old baby in December 2011 when she contracted respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and was hospitalized. Sarah spent six days in the hospital and thankfully survived. Sarah’s family was familiar with RSV because her older sister, Ellie, had also been hospitalized with RSV when she was just one year old.

Sarah’s mother, Mary Lee, shares her family’s story of how RSV impacted their lives.

How would you describe Sarah and what are some of her favorite things to do?

Sarah is now a healthy 11-year-old with a BIG personality and she’s the family comedian. She loves to play soccer and tennis, plays the viola, and is a great student. She’s our second daughter. Her older sister, Ellie, is two and a half years older than Sarah.

How did Sarah get RSV?

I had a healthy pregnancy with Sarah and she was born at term. Sarah’s sister had started preschool in the month leading up to her birth, so she was being exposed to a lot more germs than when she was in home daycare.

We are fairly confident that Sarah caught RSV when her big sister brought it home, although it’s hard to say. I recall that my older daughter was not allowed to visit her sister in the hospital when she was born due to seasonal restrictions related to the spread of influenza (flu).

What were Sarah’s symptoms and when did you know it was serious?

Sarah’s first symptom was a sniffle, then her breathing got rapid and shallow. We took her to the pediatrician, who noted it was probably RSV but that there was nothing they could do for it. They told us to keep a close eye on her and use steam to help her breathe if that was helpful. I recall the pediatrician saying it will get worse before it gets better and not to shy away from going to the emergency room if necessary.

Her breathing continued to get worse, and at one point, she appeared to turn blue for a moment, especially around the lips. She was taking rapid, shallow breaths.

We called 9-1-1 and the ambulance took us to a nearby medical center with a well-known children's hospital.
What happened at the hospital?

Sarah was immediately hospitalized upon entry into the emergency room. We were there for about six days. She was never admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), but she was on oxygen. I was also unable to breastfeed Sarah when she was in the hospital, so she also lost weight while she was there.

Did Sarah have any long-term health impacts as a result of her illness?

Sarah recovered just fine and is now a very healthy kid. However, her illness and the stress it caused both of us at the time severely impacted my ability to breastfeed her. She couldn’t nurse well because she was in critical condition, and the stress I was under reduced my milk supply.

As a result of Sarah's RSV-related hospitalization, we never really recovered to a full-time breastfeeding schedule - and that was sad for me as a mother.
What about your older daughter’s experience with RSV – what was that like?

My oldest daughter, Ellie, was hospitalized with RSV when she was exactly one year old. Given that she was an older baby, her illness was not as bad as Sarah’s – but it was still terrifying.

What do you want others to know about the importance of vaccines?

When I was pregnant with Sarah, I made sure to get my flu vaccine and my husband and daughter had received all their recommended vaccines. However, when my babies were born, there were no available vaccines to prevent RSV (although hopefully soon there will be some preventive tools like immunizations to help protect infants and older adults from RSV). Our family’s experiences underscored for us why it’s so important to get timely, routine immunizations. 



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