Mississippi boy’s family followed advice to avoid virus, yet he’s gravely ill with COVID-19 related illness

Published 4:54 pm Thursday, May 21, 2020

Teacher Stephanie Talianicich thought her Ocean Springs family was safe from COVID-19, but her son Wyatt is now on a ventilator, fighting to see his 16th birthday June 1, after being diagnosed with a rare illness, pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

Today, she is questioning everything she knows and has read about the virus. Wyatt tested negative for the virus and its antibodies, but doctors plan to retest him, saying others they have treated for PMIS also tested negative.

Taliancich worries what will happen when children return to school.

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Wyatt’s condition is so critical that he was flown Monday from Ocean Springs Hospital to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, where he was put on a ventilator. She said Emergency Medicine Drs. Drew Weber and Stephen Boskovich of Ocean Springs Hospital saved her son’s life by recognizing the severity of his illness and reacting quickly.

Wyatt was in kidney failure and near death.

Taliancich was with her son in the New Orleans hospital when she saw an article at sunherald.com about Mississippi’s first case of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome. That patient, a boy from Central Mississippi who tested positive for COVID-19, is out of the hospital and recovering.

The announcement came during Gov. Tate Reeves’ weekday news briefing on Facebook Live.

Taliancich immediately sent an email to the Sun Herald: ”I wanted you to know so you could share this information. This could happen to anyone. Wyatt has been 2 places in over 2 months. Please let the governor know . . . it is happening.”

In another email, she wrote: “We thought we were doing everything right and here we are. Schools really need to think about this. Are they prepared for children who could possibly be this sick?

“I just think there are too many unknowns. Is it COVID? Is it related to COVID? Or is it something else?

“I just do not think you can send kids into the unknown.”

Wyatt’s last day at Ocean Springs High School was March 13. The Taliancich’s other son, 20-year-old Travis, has been home from Mississippi State University since March 7.

Their parents have also been off work and staying close to home. In 2014, they lost a daughter born with a severe disability. She died in her sleep after suffering some illnesses, her mother said.

“My husband and I have picked up groceries and such, ordered takeout and picked up in the drive-thru, but we were extra cautious with our kids,” she said.

She said that she and her husband took their sons swimming several weeks ago. Nobody else was in the water, and no one was around them on the beach in Ocean Springs.

A couple of days later, the family went to Target. They were in the store about 20 minutes. Those are the only two places Wyatt has been since COVID-19 closed schools, she said.

The only people who have been to their house are a colleague who wore a mask and two close friends, one with a daughter, who are considered family and have been around the Taliancich’s throughout the pandemic. None of them are sick.

“We educated ourselves and practiced social distancing,” Taliancich said. “We kept him home and made sure he was not exposed to risky situations, yet it still happened.

“What do we really know about this? Not much more than we knew in March. My son is on a ventilator and he is fighting with our support, but it could be anyone’s child.”

Wyatt was looking forward to his 16th birthday. He wanted one of those parades like he has seen on Facebook during the quarantine. Friends and Taliancich’s co-workers are going to send him cards.

Everyone is praying for this smart teenager who loves Legos, math, band, movies and going out to eat with his family.

“He is kind-hearted and loves people unconditionally,” his mother said. “He is empathetic and kind to all.”

She said Wyatt has no underlying health conditions. He started feeling bad one week ago. His parents ordered ribs for dinner, but he said they didn’t taste right.

For the next two days, he mostly slept. His father took Wyatt to the emergency room at Ocean Springs Hospital on Saturday, after he developed a cough and still felt bad. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and given antibiotics. A COVID-19 test was negative.

By Monday morning, he was dry heaving and back at the hospital. His blood pressure was dangerously low and his kidneys were failing. A second COVID-19 test was negative.

Recognizing how sick he was, the doctors consulted with Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and had him flown there.

He was soon put on a ventilator.

“He was hallucinating and thought he was at school,” his mother said. “We explained to him what was going on, but I really don’t think he had any idea.”

The doctors in New Orleans diagnosed Wyatt with PMIS. They have seen other cases, too. PMIS has been reported in other states and countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many children with PMIS, but not all, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

PMIS can cause “dangerous levels of inflammation throughout the body,” an article on Yale Medicine’s website says.

Wyatt’s condition is critical. He will remain on a ventilator until his blood pressure stabilizes, his mother said. She said he was suffering from an irregular heartbeat Wednesday morning, but it has since stabilized.

Taliancich said her son’s lung secretions have been tested, with doctors still trying to determine whether he at some point contracted COVID-19. She is waiting on the results.

And Taliancich, a reading teacher in the Moss Point School District, is praying. She has a network of supporters from the schools, including current and former students. Once you are in “Mrs. T’s” class, she said, you are one of her babies for life.

One of her students sent her a prayer. She repeats it over and over.

“Lord, Heavenly Father, I pray to you today of a sick son, of a great mother. Please bring her son into great health and bless her family that no sickness will break them apart, and heal each and everyone around them.”

This article was written by award-winning Mississippi journalist Anita Lee and was originally published by sunherald.com and is republished here with their permission.