From nightmare to dream come true

Patient Stories |

07/22/2021

Richard2

Play ball: A 15-year-old baseball player was critically ill with MIS-C earlier this year, but this weekend, he is throwing out the first pitch at an Indianapolis Indians game.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

When Richard Barnes steps out onto the pitcher’s mound at Victory Field this weekend, it will be the culmination of a long and difficult journey.

And he’s only 15.

The incoming sophomore at Rushville Consolidated High School was selected to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Indianapolis Indians game as a nod to his victory over a rare and mysterious illness that strikes children who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children typically occurs between two and six weeks after an initial COVID infection. It can be difficult to diagnose, but it can cause inflammation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and/or gastrointestinal organs.

In Richard’s case, it started with a fever at school last January, about a month after he and his entire family came down with COVID. Richard had a mild case of COVID and bounced right back, but MIS-C landed him in the emergency room at one hospital, before being transferred via ambulance to Riley Hospital for Children with what doctors initially thought might be appendicitis.

“It felt like a normal headache at first,” the teen said, recalling the morning when MIS-C first took hold. He took ibuprofen and went to school. All was good until the last period in school when he felt miserable. He went to the school nurse, who told him he had a fever of 101.

Things got worse after he went home. He collapsed on the couch to sleep, then woke up with what he describes as “the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”

That marked the beginning of his battle with an illness that knocked him off his feet for weeks. He was in the intensive care unit at Riley for several days, and even when he went home, the football and baseball player couldn’t return to his normal activities for months.

“I thought I was going to have a quick surgery … and I could get better and go back to sports,” he said. “I had never heard of anything like this.”

Dr. Samina Bhumbra, associate medical director of infection prevention at Riley, was one of many doctors to treat Richard and is studying the long-term effects of MIS-C.

Because there is not one, single test that can diagnose kids, it takes multiple specialties getting involved, she said. Apart from fever and gastrointestinal symptoms, Dr. Bhumbra said the next most-common sign is redness of the eyes and skin rash.

Other symptoms can include irritability and decreased activity, diarrhea, vomiting, belly pain, cracked lips or a red, bumpy tongue, swollen hands and feet and swollen lymph nodes.

Richard has only vague memories of being in an ambulance and being transferred into and out of ICU, but his parents, Steve and Mary Beth, were terrified for him.

“Watch your kids, especially if they’ve had COVID,” she said. “As a parent, it was very scary. We’re very lucky.”

Now six months out from his fight with MIS-C, Richard is back doing what he loves most – working out and playing sports. Waiting was the hardest part.

“My dad had to try to hold me back,” he said.

He did manage to join his high school baseball team for the tail end of the season and talks about how it felt to be back on the diamond.

“When I first got on the field, I did have tears in my eyes and I looked up at the sky and said, ‘I’m here.’ That was amazing for me to finally be back on the field.”

And now he steps onto a bigger field Saturday night for the start of a Minor League match-up between the Indianapolis Indians and the Toledo Mud Hens.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing in the MLB and dreamed of being on the field … it’s surreal that because of all this I get to have that chance now.”

Related stories:

Parents “blindsided” by COVID-related illness in kids - Mysterious MIS-C typically strikes adolescents several weeks after exposure to the coronavirus. Two Indiana families are breathing easier as their boys come home from the hospital.

Related Doctor

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Samina S. Bhumbra, MD

Pediatric Infectious Disease