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My Son Had a Febrile Seizure

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One mom's first-person account.

boy having high fever

With the recent and tragic death of Jett Travolta, seizures are at the forefront of many parents' minds. While most seizures are not life-threatening, watching your child have one is terrifying. Here is one mother's account of what happened when her son had a febrile seizure, a convulsion in young children caused by a sudden spike in body temperature.

Guest Blogger Sara writes: The other night, my 23-month-old Asher had a cough, but it didn't seem to be anything major. He felt warm in the evening, so we took his temperature and it was 100.3, so we treated it with Tylenol immediately. He seemed a bit crabby throughout the day but never too sick or lethargic. We went through our normal dinner/ bath routine but ran a cooler bath than normal, thinking it would help bring down the fever. We also put him in footie pajamas since it was a chilly evening. Before bed, he drank his milk and brushed his teeth just as he always does. When my husband went to go put him up to bed, I noticed he was laying on his shoulder and his eyes were drooping shut. I figured he was just exhausted.

Upstairs, my husband sat down on the rocker to read him books as he always does before bed, and I could hear them talking. My husband said he noticed that Asher (who was sitting on his lap -- not facing him) sort of went limp -- the pacifier fell out of his mouth and when Asher didn't go to pick it up (as he always does), he figured he fell asleep and he should just put him in the crib. But as he picked him up and turned him around, he saw that he was completely limp and unresponsive. I heard him yell, "Asher! Asher!"

I ran upstairs and Asher's mouth was wide open. He was not responding to our screams. Every so often, he would gasp for air. I immediately called 911. The 911 person told us to lay him on the floor on his back and that's when he started seizing: Both arms seemed like they were involuntarily jerking. His head was going back and forth. The 911 operator asked me a bunch of questions and told me that as long as he is breathing to wait for the paramedics. About 2-3 minutes later, what seemed like a lifetime, the paramedics arrived and Asher was still seizing. Once they assessed him and took all his vitals, they knew immediately that he was having a febrile seizure. They said that this is relatively common in young children; when a fever spikes really high, some children respond by having convulsions. While I was relieved to hear this, I still didn't believe he was okay though -- he was just laying there and it almost looked like he was dead.

The paramedics assured me that after a febrile seizure, there's a period of time called the Post-Ictal Period where the brain is, in essence, rebooting -- it's kind of like a recovery period after a seizure, which It can last up to about 20 minutes. After about 5 minutes though, they transitioned him to the ambulance and he was still unresponsive. I kept asking the paramedics, "Is this okay? Is this all right? Is this okay?!" I just couldn't believe that he hadn't snapped out of it. He looked like he was brain dead, but the paramedic assured me that it's completely normal. He was shivering a lot, which was apparently a sign his body temperature was regulating.

When we got to the hospital, about 3 or 4 minutes later, he finally came to. He started to cough and open his eyes -- I was so relieved. I never thought hearing my son's cough would be the best sound ever. At this point, his temperature was at 103.5. Since this was Asher's first experience with a Febrile Seizure, the doctors wanted to run a battery of tests to check to see where the source of the fever was coming from (infections, etc) and to see if there was a greater disorder. They took blood, an X-ray of his chest, and also swabbed his nose for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).

The doctors told me that in the future if our child has a fever to dress them really coolly. Don't bundle him -- definitely no footies. They literally told us to put him in a T-shirt, diaper and maybe short pants. Bundling him up just exacerbates the fever. After a couple hours of being there, nothing turned up in any of the tests for a bacterial infection. The consensus and diagnosis was that he had contracted a virus -- anything that could create a high-rising fever in a short amount of time could have caused this. We were also told that children that have had one febrile seizure are at a higher risk for having another -- though it may never happened again. Children tend to outgrow them and we were assured that febrile seizures are greatly different from and not related to epileptic seizures.

Not knowing what was happening and truly feeling helpless was the scariest feeling in the world. Not knowing how to help my child was awful. Now that I understand it a little better, I feel more comfortable. But this was the scariest thing my husband and I had ever experienced. It's hard to believe that there was a moment that I actually thought my son was dying. The range of emotions that I went through for 10 minutes from the time it happened until we left for the hospital were so drastic that it took me a while to process and understand that he would be okay. For something that can seem so extreme and scary, it's hard to imagine that a febrile seizure is actually medically harmless and has no long-term effects. I'm hoping that this never happens again, but if it does, the only peace of mind that I have now is that I'll recognize it, and will know that we'll be okay in the end.

Check back in tomorrow when pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson weighs in on febrile seizures and what you can do about them.

next: Tom Cruise: Jett Travolta's Death "Horrific"
14 comments so far | Post a comment now
Val January 8, 2009, 5:05 PM

Oh my God, thats the scariest thing Ive ever heard. I am so glad that he’s okay though, I couldnt imagine going through something like that. Thank you for sharing with us though, I was always told by my parents to dress someone who had a fever in warm clothes to break it, but now I will think twice.

Val January 8, 2009, 5:05 PM

Oh my God, thats the scariest thing Ive ever heard. I am so glad that he’s okay though, I couldnt imagine going through something like that. Thank you for sharing with us though, I was always told by my parents to dress someone who had a fever in warm clothes to break it, but now I will think twice.

Kira January 8, 2009, 8:35 PM

My first born had them febrile seizures, she only had 2 episodes one the night before her 1st birthday and then then 2 on her 1st birthday. her temp. spiked at 105. the first time i was alone with her and i tell you that was the worst, i too thought my baby was not gonna pull out of it. called 911 they took her to the hospital and did nothing for her, or even tell my husband and i what to do if it happened again. i felt so scared for my little girl. the 2nd one we had to call 911 again they took us to a diff. hospital and the did test after test and gave us information about it and how to deal with it. my little girl is going on 6 in a few weeks now and she has not had any more since her 1st birthday. but it still haunts me that it could happen again to her or my other little girl.. its a scary thing to see happen to your child.

Miranda January 8, 2009, 11:23 PM

I know how you feel, my daughter had one at 14 months and quit breathing, it was the scariest thing. I was a single mom at the time, and Thank God for my parents, they met us at the hospital, and got me through it. I didn’t know they could happen with high fevers, so it was really scary!!!!

Concerned Mom of 3 February 7, 2009, 2:03 AM

I understand the pain of watching this happen to your child and feeling helpless. The worst/scariest day of my life happened just 4 days ago. My two and a half year old son came into my room at about 1a.m. and asked to sleep with me. I usually take him back to his own bed, but I was tired and let him stay. At 3:30a.m. I was woke up to him vilantly shaking next to me. We called 911 and he was taken to a small nearby hospital. They took his temp, which was only 101. They peaked in his ears and throat said he had strep throat and sent us home with antibiotics.I tolled them I was concerned about the fever, and he assured me they are common in toddlers who have illnesses such as strep throat which can cause a rappid fever. On the way home he had a second seizure. All in all he visited 4 hospitals and had 3 ambulance rides with a total of 5 febrile seizures IN ONE DAY. Oh by the way the final hospital actualy did do a throat culture, and he had no strep throat. Basically what I am saying is do not let ER doctors just dismiss the problem at hand by telling you it is common. Every child is different, and each case should be treated as such.

Tabina July 2, 2009, 12:15 AM

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Al September 6, 2009, 6:26 AM

Hi all. Good soldiers never pass up a chance to eat or sleep. They never know how much they’ll be called on to do before the next chance.
I am from Kuwait and , too, and now am writing in English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “In the fund of new share securities, they then represent minor stock contracts railways from market to broker.”

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Gabby February 2, 2010, 9:55 AM

My son just had a febrile seizure for the 1st time two days ago. It was one of the scariest things I’ve gone through & this is my third son. He’s 19 months old, I just got up & showered since he was still asleep that morning, then got him a pop-tart, he was so excited & ran over to his chair trying to get into it alone, I put him in his chair & turned to go fill up his sippy, before I could even do that I looked over & he was starring blankly at the wall I called his name three times & he didn’t look or move, I picked him up & he started shaking, I called 911 & they put him on oxygen & an IV, then took him to the er. I kept thinking will he be the same, will he still be my sweet boy. But after running test we found out he had pnuemonia & asthma, so now he’s on all kinds of meds. But I’m happy I was there in the room when it happen, it was very scary though. I’m happy I know know when he has a fever to keep tylenol & ibprofen in him to regulate his temp.

koda March 18, 2010, 9:25 PM

My four month old recently had what we suspect to have been a seizure. She woke from sleep tense-red in the face almost seemed to forget to breathe kind of thing for no more than 5 seconds afterward she seemed confused like she didn’t know where she was. It was extremely frightening I turned her quickly on her side I thought she was maybe choking I am still confused and waiting for her doctors visit to hopefully get some answers. I was wondering if any one has had a simular experience.

Noel April 8, 2010, 12:21 PM

my son had his first febrile seizure @ 18 months old. He is now 5 and is still having them. He usually has two or three a year depending on how many times he is sick. It is something that I have never gotten use to and never will. There is never a warning and nothing I can do to stop it. His lips turn blue and he looks like he is dying. It is absolutely terrifying every single time. They tell me he will grow out of it by 6 years old. I certainly hope so but don’t have alot of confidence that it will happen

Kim April 17, 2010, 4:46 PM

My son just had his second febrile seizure -he is 14 months old - had his first 3 months ago. Its beyond the scariest thing to watch your toddler go thru. But now Im just scared to death to leave him in his crib. I am so scared that he will have one in the middle of the night and i wont hear him. Is anyone else having this fear? Please email me if so. I feel so helpless and I just want to be with him 24/7. He is only only child and I dont no what I would do if something ever happened to him.
a scared to death mom

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mimi December 4, 2010, 10:36 PM

My son is almost 18 months old and the scariest thing I have ever seen in my life was watching helplessly while my son had a seizure. We were having lunch at a restaurant when I noticed his eyes rolled back and he went weak in his high chair. I picked him up and was screaming and yelling for someone to help me. He wasn’t shaking but was stiff and had that dazed look. Everyone thought he was choking on food but I knew he hadn’t put anything in his mouth. I ran outside with him in my arms and someone on the street told me he’s having a seizure and helped me lay him on the ground and take his clothes off. By then someone had already called the paramedics and they immediately came and took us to ER. When I heard the word “seizure” from the stranger helping me, I immediately thought it was an epileptic seizure, i kept asking the paramedic if he’s brain damaged. He assured me that he is not and that its from his fever. Basically the ER doctor told me that its very common and it might happen again since it happened once. I just cant believe that I never knew that seizures can occur in kids with high fever. I felt so guilty for not checking his temperature at home when I felt he was a little warm, thinking he was playing in the sun earlier. The next day I took him to his pediatrician for a checkup and he said something different. He said that a seizure does NOT happen because of the fever or the hike in fever. It happens when a child is sick and that this kind of seizure is genetic. He said that many kids have fevers up to 105 but don’t get seizures. Apparently he is saying that there is a history of this type of seizure in our family after they get sick. He stated that my son had some kind of throat infection and that is what it was from. I had really learned my lesson that I will always take his temperature and give tylenol at the slightest raise in temperature to avoid any seizures. But now I’m not sure because my doctor is telling me that it wasn’t from the fever, but he can get a seizure if he gets an illness, in which there is nothing I can do to prevent….Oh and his doc also stated that since fevers are there to help fight off bacteria from your body it doesn’t make sense to give tylenol to bring down your temp..????? Has anyone heard this “theory” before?

Karen January 15, 2011, 5:22 PM

My two year old son had a febrile seizure about 7 months ago.It was so scary!He had fallen asleep in my 16 year old daughters room like he and his twin sister loves to do and everything ws fine.He had been a little warm but I gave him motrin and went to bed until it was time for his next dose.Then my husband and I were awakened at 3 am by the sound of someone kicking in our bedroom door!I heard my daughter screaming”Mama something is wrong with Bear(his nickname)!Something is wrong with Bear!”When I cut the light on my son was laying in her arms limp and he didnt look like he was breathing at all.I grabbed him and started patting him in the back.(I didnt know what was happening at this time.)My husband called 911 and the dispatcher was asking all of these questions and i grew so impatient with them that i yelled at them.during that time he started coming to.Then he just kind of just looked at everybody.I called his name but he didnt answer,he just looked at me.anyway the EMt finally gOt there and explained that it seemed as if he had a febrile seizure. it.It was so scary I couldnt stop crying!Then what makes the whole idea of the seizures even scarier is he had his second one 6 dys ago and I was at work snowed in because of an ice storm and I had no way of getting to him at all!He has to see a pediatric neurologist and tnd hopefully we will find out some answers.

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