When Cassidy Kujda was sent home from day care in the summer of 2018 with low energy and a mild fever, her mother wasn’t particularly worried. Amanda Kujda took her almost 3-year-old to the doctor, who counseled fluids and rest for a probable virus.
When the fever was still around a few days later, they made another trip to a pediatric urgent care facility, but with no other signs, were encouraged to give Cassidy a few more days to heal. By the sixth day, Cassidy’s parents were convinced that something more serious was happening.
“She became more lethargic, her lips were cracking, her hands ached and her eyes were bloodshot,” Amanda Kujda said. “We took her to the urgent care again.”
This time the physician recognized Cassidy’s prolonged fever, strawberry tongue, red eyes, body rash, swollen red hands and feet and cracked and bleeding lips as symptoms of Kawasaki Disease, a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of some blood vessels in the body.
Cassidy was immediately sent to Texas Children’s Hospital, where she began the prescribed Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIg) therapy. More than a year later, Amanda said her daughter is doing well. She plans to join her big brother at Oak Forest Elementary in 2020-21.
Cassidy is now off aspirin after taking it for the eights months after her hospital stay. She undergoes periodic echocardiograms and EKGs to monitor her progress.
“She has returned to her normal life — runs, plays and sings,” Amanda said.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Kawasaki disease is one of the top causes of acquired heart disease in children, but with the right treatment only a small percentage of children have lasting heart complications, including inflammation of blood vessels, inflammation of the heart muscle and heart valve problems.
That’s why Amanda wants to get the word out about the disease, which has no known cause. Scientists don’t think the disease is contagious but rather linked to bacteria, viruses or other environmental factors. A genetic predisposition may play a role as well.
Those younger than 5 years old are most at risk to develop Kawasaki disease, and boys get it at a slightly higher rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children of Asian or Pacific Island parentage also have a higher rate of occurrence. The National Institute for Health said that in the United States and other Western countries, Kawasaki disease occurs in approximately 1 in 10,000 children under 5 each year.
“Early detection is very important,” Amanda said. “The studies have revealed that if treatment is received within the first 10 days of the disease that children are less likely to develop heart aneurysms.”
When Cassidy is older she will need a stress test to ensure her heart can withstand strenuous physical activity, such as competitive sports.
“Her prognosis is good,” Amanda said, noting that Kawasaki disease caused her daughter’s coronaries to enlarge, which is why she was prescribed aspirin to prevent clots from forming in the heart.
“Over time, the pediatric cardiologist has been measuring her coronaries via the echocardiogram and her coronaries have returned to the normal measurement range for a child,” Amanda said.
If Cassidy ever has an unexplained fever, the Kujdas will contact their pediatric cardiologist for inflammation testing.
“If they even slightly suspect Kawasaki disease – which she can get more than once – they will treat her with IVIG,” Amanda said. “If a child gets Kawasaki disease a second time, it affects the heart more quickly.”
The family’s experience has led them to start fundraising for the Kawasaki Kids Foundation and speaking about their experience so other parents are aware.
“Part of the fundraising goes toward researching the disease, potentially discovering the cause and creating a diagnostic test to identify the disease,” Amanda said.
To that end, the Kickin’ Kawasaki 5K will be held in The Woodlands on Oct. 26. The Kujda family, which includes Amanda’s husband, Jason, has put together a team. The public can support them at www.TeamCassidy5k.com. For more information about the Kawasaki Kids Foundation, visit https://www.kawasakikidsfoundation.org/.
“This race and fundraiser are important to me, because I don’t want anyone to experience the panic and pain that comes with Kawasaki disease, especially an innocent child,” Amanda said. “We can raise awareness, educate parents and caregivers and gather much-needed research funds.”