A nine-year-old New Mexico boy has passed away nine months after he contracted a rare and deadly rat disease.
Fernando Hernandez, from Bloomfield, started experiencing flu-like symptoms, including fever, vomiting and lethargy, in January.
He was hospitalized after he began having trouble breathing and – after weeks of tests – he was diagnosed with hantavirus, a disease spread through rodent droppings that cripples the organs.
While waiting for a heart-lung transplant, Fernando suffered a brain hemorrhage that left him brain dead. His parents made the heartbreaking decision to take him off life support.
Near the end of January, Fernando began vomiting but his parents, George Fernandez and Anna Granados, told The Farmington Daily Times they assumed he’d come down with the flu.
But, when his symptoms didn’t improve, he was taken to San Juan Regional Medical Center, where he spent 10 days.
Despite an X-ray that revealed spots on his lungs, no tests were conclusive so was sent home with antibiotics.
However, just a few days later, the boy was struggling to breathe on his own. His parents rushed him to the emergency room, where he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
Doctors still couldn’t figure out what was wrong but, when Fernando’s heart began to fail, he had to undergo numerous surgeries before being hooked up to an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine.
The machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest.
Finally, in late February, Fernando was diagnosed with hantavirus.
The rare virus is caused by coming into contact with infected rodent droppings, urine, saliva, nesting materials, or inhaling particles from these.
About two months before Fernando was diagnosed, his father asked him to clean the backyard and he wonders if that was the cause.
‘Farmington is a farming community and they tell us it’s in the soil,’ George Hernandez told Fox News in March.
‘I had my son help me clean the backyard two months ago – I just really hope it wasn’t that.’
Diagnosis can be difficult because early symptoms often resemble other more common viruses such as the flu.
The virus can cause blood to leak into the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, and weakens blood vessels so that blood and oxygen cannot be circulated throughout the body.
The infection can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, which can lead to respiratory failure and death.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 728 total cases reported in the US as of January 2017.
The agency adds that only 36 states have reported cases, the overwhelming majority in states west of the Mississippi River.
Fernando’s parents told The Daily Times that their son had been at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio where he was working to get strong enough to have a heart-lung transplant.
But, on October 26, he suffered a brain hemorrhage that left him brain dead. The family made the painful decision to take him off of life support.
‘We really thought he was going to make it,’ George Hernandez told the newspaper.
A GoFundMe page has been set up help cover Fernando’s funeral expenses. So far, more than $4,500 has been raised out of a $15,000 goal.
‘Fernando had hopes and dreams of getting out of the hospital one day and return to his normal life…school, friends, family etc.,’ his father wrote on the page.
‘Unfortunately destiny took another route…I can tell you the last few weeks weren’t all that great for him…he was in constant pain but was holding on.’
Hernandez is the second New Mexican resident to die of hantavirus this year.
In February, 27-year-old Kiley Lane was diagnosed with the illness, and was on life support for more than two months.
The Daily Times reports that she died on April 18 at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.