One mom's first-person account.
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.