A four-year-old boy spent 74 days on life support and was given just a five per cent chance of survival after a simple cough turned out to be a deadly infection.
Little Kierkan McNeely woke up at night spluttering so his mum and dad, Amanda and Kevin McNeely, both 31, took him to see the local doctor.
He was treated with steroids for suspected croup cough, a common virus, and sent on his way following the appointment at 8am.
But by 5pm Kierkan had been rushed to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in an ambulance after Kevin, a Walmart tire fitter, noticed his son was struggling to breathe.
Doctors discovered that Kierkan’s lungs had collapsed and immediately placed him in a coma in the ICU where his health rapidly declined.
Blood tests later revealed he was suffering from a strep A infection that had entered his bloodstream and was causing his heart, lungs and kidneys to fail.
Just 24 hours after he was first admitted, Keirkan’s parents watched in horror as doctors attempted to revive their son whose heart had stopped beating.
Medics were forced to place him on dialysis and an ECMO machine, a device which replaces the function of the heart and lungs, to keep him alive.
The youngster miraculously battled through but remained on life support for 74 days as his body fought the infection and spent almost eight months in hospital.
Now aged eight, Kierkan is still suffering and is set to undergo surgery this summer to repair his voice box which was damaged by intubation.
His mom Amanda, a general manager from Cabot, Arkansas, said: “We thought it was croup because Kierkan has had it at least once a year since he was one.
“Normally, the shot of steroids would help him feel better almost immediately and we thought it would be the same this time but he just got sicker.
“When I got home at 4PM, I knew we had to take him to the hospital.
“I took a quick shower, but in the middle of it my husband started screaming about his breathing, we later found out it was because his lungs had collapsed.
“We put Kierkan in the car, but the battery was dead, so we called an ambulance which came in minutes.
“We don’t know exactly, but doctors believe he probably was suffering from strep throat, and the infection entered his bloodstream there.”
Recalling the ordeal, she added: “My husband and I were in the room when Kierkan coded, watching these doctors perform CPR on him.
“It all happened so fast it was such a horrible blur.
“Although they had placed him on the ECMO machine to help support his heart and his lungs, doctors told us it wasn’t enough.
“They told us that if they didn’t cut open his chest and connect the machine directly to his heart he wouldn’t be alive in three hours.
“It was such a high-risk surgery and his chances were as low as five per cent. We just prayed hard that we wouldn’t lose him.”
Although Kierkan was still in a coma, doctors believed his body was well enough to be removed from the ECMO machine in February 2015.
Doctors slowly began to pull Kierkan out of his induced coma on March 26, more than three and a half months after he was admitted to hospital on December 12.
“It was amazing to be able to finally hold him again,” Amanda said.
“He doesn’t really remember anything, but as a parent it was such a relief to just see him turn a corner after those awful months.”
Although Kierkan was extubated on April 5 his lungs remained too weak to support his body and he was fitted with a tracheotomy and ventilator to help him breathe.
He spent a further two months on the rehab ward before he was finally able to go home on July 28, almost eight months after the horror infection ravished his body.
The brave boy was finally strong enough to have his trach tube removed in September 2016, and returned to school for the first time in almost four years in September 2017.
The first grader is awaiting surgery on June 11, to help repair his voice box which was damaged by intubation.
“Right now he can only talk in a whisper so he’s very excited about this surgery this summer.
“He still has some small issues but for the most part he is just like any normal kid now.
“Kierkan tells everyone that God saved his life and it’s true. We’re so lucky that he was okay, I’m not sure how we could have coped if things had been different.”