GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is experiencing what some might call ‘an unprecedented surge’ of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Fifty-one total patients are being held at the hospital as of Tuesday with 20 in the ICU. These cases make up about one-third of the total patients at Helen DeVos.

RSV has been a talking point for weeks now as more and more children across the country continue to test positive. More cases are expected to come as winter approaches.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that deaths in children under the age of 5 from RSV are extremely rare, roughly 57,000 children are hospitalized each year.

Katie Poort’s 3-month-old son Weston was released from Helen DeVos Tuesday afternoon after battling the virus for nearly two weeks. Poort said the virus completely took her by surprise.

“I actually did not know what RSV was until I actually had him,” she said.

3-month-old Weston Poort is back home after nearly two weeks of treatment in West Michigan hospitals.
3-month-old Weston Poort is back home after nearly two weeks of treatment in West Michigan hospitals. (Nov. 11, 2022)

The child spent time in Muskegon and was put on oxygen before coming to Grand Rapids for treatment. He eventually had to be intubated.

“It’s difficult,” Poort said. “You never want to see a tube in your child’s mouth.” 

Thankfully, Weston was able to return home, much like 5-year-old Julissa Fernandez. She was told Tuesday that she has 100% recovered from her bout with RSV.

But this isn’t the first time she dealt with RSV. She tested positive for the virus when she was 8 months old and spent more than a week in the ICU. Her parents said that was tough and this time wasn’t any better.

“It was still just as hard as the first time,” Alex Fernandez said. “It wasn’t easier.” 

“You feel helpless,” Priscilla Fernandez said.

Julissa Fernandez is 100% recovered from her second bout with RSV. She previously tested positive when she was just 8 months old. (Courtesy Priscilla M Fernandez)

The Fernandez family credits the work of the healthcare workers at Helen DeVos for keeping Julissa healthy. They also experienced an outpouring of support from the community.

“It made a huge difference,” Alex Fernandez said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Dr. Kelsey Gonring, a pediatric psychiatrist at Helen DeVos, had experience with the influx of RSV on a professional level, but earlier this month, she experienced it as a parent. Her daughter Vi, now 10 months old, appeared to be getting over an illness but then began having trouble breathing.

“The easiest way to describe it is that she just kind of tanked, meaning that she was sleeping for long periods of time. Not kind of her happy, fun, playful self,” Gonring said. “And at times I kind of caught her kind of staring off as if she was really focused on breathing.”

Vi, now 10 months old, is feeling much better after she had trouble breathing. her mother said she was “tanked” and not at all like herself. (Courtesy Kelsey Gonring)

Gonring rushed her to the hospital where she was eventually treated and released to go back home. While it was a stressful event for Vi, Gonring says there is a silver lining to this experience that parents should take with them.

“I think parents should always remember that for really young kids, they don’t remember these kinds of experiences,” she said. “This is not imprinted on them for the rest of their lives.”

Officials at Helen DeVos did say that despite the surge, they are still well-equipped to care for the patients.