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Coronavirus Hitting Younger People Hard Too, as This Family Knows

Jeff and Catherine Carlton were weeks into parenthood when Scotty experienced his spontaneous brain malformation. They called in social services, and Scotty received early intervention treatment from Cook Children’s Hospital.

by Kailey Broussard, Fort Worth Star-Telegram / July 28, 2020

(TNS) -- After over a week under heavy lockdown, an Arlington family is “cautiously optimistic” about their sons’ recovery from novel coronavirus.

Sunday, June 26, marked the first day in around two weeks that Catherine Carlton could hug 11-year-old Scotty and 9-year-old Jeffrey. The duo, who were diagnosed earlier in the month, account for two of over 25,000 positive cases reported in Tarrant County and nearly 5,000 cases in Arlington, according to county data.

“Jeffrey quite literally almost tackled me as I came out of the bedroom door,” she recalled. Because the boys’ conditions improved over the weekend, the family could ease restrictions and begin a 14-day isolation period. “That made their weekend better.”

But the family of five is wary of the next round of uncertainties. Scotty, described by his parents as a delightful boy with a contagious smile, was diagnosed with lissencephaly as an infant. Called “smooth brain,” the condition is a brain malformation that inhibits development, the ability to swallow and other bodily functions. Diagnosed weeks after birth, Scotty is more susceptible to illness.

“If it’s out there, he’ll probably catch it,” Jeff Carlton said. “It tends to be more serious in him than it is in a more typical kid.”

Jeffrey, whose parents described him as healthy, athletic and energetic, still has lingering headaches that are “scary to watch,” Catherine Carlton said.

“This is not the end of this for them, and that’s really scary,” she said.

Living under Quarantine

The Carltons’ worst fear since the pandemic started came to fruition when Scotty began retching, developed long-lasting digestive issues and developed a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since mid-March, the family has minimized social interactions where they could and kept their distance from others knowing Scotty was at a greater risk. The boys and Jenna, their 6-year-old sister, could play with neighborhood friends so long as they remained far apart. Their parents sympathetically declined their wishes to return to school or enroll in summer camp.

“We were able to keep them pretty protected for a while where they thought no one was doing anything,” Catherine Carlton said. “Then, they caught wind that some people were going to camp and then they were heartbroken.”

Instead of camp or classes, the Carlton children have taken on art projects that now hang around the house, built pillow and blanket forts and tuned into virtual camps. Jeff Carlton said he’s had to take his phone from Jeffrey, as he’s started to call his friends.

“They know the way to our hearts is, ‘Can I use your phone? I’ll go sit with Scotty and watch with him,’” Catherine Carlton said.

The family’s restrictions tightened after Scotty and Jeffrey tested positive one by one.

For over a week, Jeffrey wore a mask around the house at all times and had his own bathroom, bedroom and kitchen space. His parents prepared his food to minimize his contact with shared spaces.

“He couldn’t undo the dishwasher. He liked that,” Catherine Carlton said with a laugh.

Jeffrey also had to stay away from his sister, described by their parents as his “best friend and worst enemy.”

“In the last 10 days when he was COVID positive and she wasn’t, it took on a whole new urgency,” Jeff Carlton said.

The family similarly limited contact with Scotty, as well as cut back on the number of nurses looking after him. The couple also limited interactions with one another, as well as family members and friends who offered to take Jenna or help in any way possible.

The family’s self-isolation period ends Aug. 8, and Jeff Carlton said his children are “ready to go.” However, the family is aware things will not truly return to normal as long as the virus poses a threat.

“We have some really cooped up kids who are anxious to do something,” Carlton said.

“It can happen to you”

Their sons’ diagnoses are not the first medical emergency the Carltons have faced.

Jeff and Catherine Carlton were weeks into parenthood when Scotty experienced his spontaneous brain malformation. They called in social services, and Scotty received early intervention treatment from Cook Children’s. Initially, experts said their eldest son probably would not see his second birthday party.

“All those interventions we had in those first few years is why he’s here now,” Catherine Carlton said. “They’ve equipped us so that we can take care of him now.”

The Carltons are thankful for the extra preparations and abilities to take care of their children afforded by the experience raising Scotty. However, they said they’re frustrated by the misinformation surrounding the virus. The couple, after declining interview requests from the Star-Telegram and other media organizations, changed their minds to show people the virus remains a public health threat.

“I see the similarity of, ‘Oh, but that won’t happen to my family,’ or, ‘Oh, we’ll be OK,’” Catherine Carlton said. “Here we are again saying, ‘No, no, it can happen to you.’ And I hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

She said the cost of testing positive for the virus is greater for families who cannot work from home, are inexperienced with managing health threats and those who do not have the financial security to stay home.

“We can ride out a crisis better than most in terms of equipment and just physically and emotionally,” Catherine Carlton said. “We’ve been through this, unfortunately.”

The Carltons are also aware their sons, while making improvements, are not entirely out of the woods.

“They both have lingering symptoms that are very concerning, so I think we’re cautiously optimistic about where we are right now,” Catherine Carlton said.


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