Explaining rare process that caused Michigan 5-year-old to die from coronavirus (COVID-19)

Skylar Herbert died Sunday due to complications from COVID-19

ROYAL OAK, Mich. – A 5-year-old girl at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak died over the weekend from the coronavirus (COVID-19) due to rare complications. Dr. Frank McGeorge is explaining what happened and the symptoms to watch out for.

The process that led to the death of Skylar Herbert is called necrotizing encephalopathy. It’s extremely rare. The first reported case related to COVID-19 was described at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in an article published three weeks ago.

Full Screen
1 / 4

Skylar Herbert

Henry Ford neurologist Dr. Elissa Fory was one of the doctors who treated that patient.

“She had typical symptoms of COVID-19 for about four days prior to developing neurological symptoms,” Fory said. “Then she became confused, and when her family noticed that she was confused, she was brought to the emergency department.”

Symptoms such as confusion, disorientation and lack of alertness aren’t common in COVID-19 patients, but they raise the possibility of brain involvement.

Necrotizing encephalitis, which can be caused by other viruses, such as influenza and the chicken pox, is one of the conditions doctors consider.

The exact cause is unclear, but the most likely culprit is a person’s own immune system.

“We think that these inflammatory markers or some of these proteins that are revved up when people get sick that cause things like fever and chills -- that these can attack the body in and of itself,” Fory said. “So, at least for our patient, we think that the same sort of revved up hyperactive immune system is what caused the damage to her brain.”

Though it’s very rare, necrotizing encephalitis occurs in children more often than adults. Since it’s so rare, beyond supportive care, there’s no proven treatment.

The Henry Ford patient was able to be discharged to a rehab facility. Her doctors are hopeful she will continue to recover.

About the Authors: