UTICA — On Monday, Xavier Harris was his usual happy self. The 4-year-old couldn’t sit still, running around the house and teasing his older brothers. He was a flurry of motion, his mom said.
But Xavier — who was called Xavy by his family — spiked a fever that day, said his mom, Chantel Brooks. Like any kid, he’d had fevers before and it wasn’t too high, so his mom gave him some Tylenol.
On Tuesday, Brooks learned her mom had tested positive for COVID-19. Xavier had spent a night over the weekend at his grandmother’s. They had worn masks, but Brooks was still worried.
She called his pediatrician, who said not to bring him to urgent care, but to monitor his symptoms.
By Saturday, Dec. 26, six days after he first got sick, the spunky, wiry, super-active, 40-pound Xavier was dead. Brooks said doctors told her he died of cardiac arrest as a complication of COVID.
“I miss my little guy calling my name 57 times a day just to tell me ‘hi,’” she said Thursday. “I miss him crawling into bed with me. Now I look and he’s not there. I can’t sleep.”
COVID deaths among children are very rare.
In New York state, only nine children 9 years old or younger have died of COVID, according to the state Department of Health.
Children make up 0.07% of all COVID-19 deaths, according to a report this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association based on data from 42 states. In all, 172 children nationwide have died of COVID, the report said.
Xavier, who was in pre-kindergarten in Utica, had been very healthy, his mother said.
“He wasn’t a sick child at all. He didn’t have any underlying conditions,” she said. “I’m the one who had cancer and am diabetic. Everyone was afraid I’d get it, which is why we wore our masks all the time and used Instacart.”
When Xavier didn’t get better and his fever rose to 104 degrees, Brooks drove him to the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room in Utica on Wednesday morning. She told them about her mom testing positive for COVID, so they tested Xavier, but he was negative.
They did a chest X-ray, she said, and found two white spots on his lungs. They put in an IV, as he couldn’t keep anything down, including liquids, she said.
Brooks said she asked if he could have another COVID test. This time, Xavier tested positive.
On Christmas, Xavier was still in the hospital, but his fever broke and he started asking for something to drink. He was talking, smiling and telling the doctors he just wanted to watch his “Toy Story 4” movie and go home. Doctors said if he continued to make progress, he’d be released the next day.
Brooks called her two other sons, Darell, 12, and Jeremiah, 10. They said they wanted to wait for their little brother to come home Saturday before opening gifts.
All of a sudden on Friday, Xavier began struggling to breathe, Brooks said. Another chest X-ray showed the spots on his lungs had increased. Early Saturday morning, they rushed him to Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, she said.
In Upstate’s emergency room, he was surrounded by doctors and nurses, who Brooks said were wonderful to him. Xavier was conscious, talking and asking for him mom.
“He didn’t seem that sick,” she said. “He would smile at the doctor, but then didn’t want to be touched by anyone. He told me he wanted to go home.”
The doctors attending to Xavier let his mom hold his hand.
“Don’t leave me,” his mom recalls her son saying. She assured him she wasn’t going anywhere until he went with her.
Suddenly, Brooks said she heard the machine stop beeping next to his bed.
“They rushed me out of the room to work on him, but I saw his face and I knew he was gone,” she said. “I knew it was bad, but I hoped they could do something to get him back.”
Xavier passed away at 7:20 a.m. the day after Christmas. Brooks said she was told he went into cardiac arrest a result of COVID-19.
The doctors let her into the room to see her son, and she sat for some time holding his hand and telling him how much she loved him.
“I love you and I’m so sorry,” Brooks recalled saying to him over and over.
Brooks, a 32-year-old single mom, is left with a giant hole in her heart, and a lot of questions. Why her son? Why did this happen?
Xavier was a welcome surprise, she said, born after she’d suffered a miscarriage and wasn’t sure she could have any more children.
“I lost my miracle baby,” she said. “I don’t feel normal anymore. I feel like I’m not complete.”
Reeling from Xaiver’s death and his funeral held Wednesday, Brooks said she is comforted by the support from her family, friends, colleagues from the Utica City School District where she’s a teaching assistant, and also from strangers. People have sent cards, brought food and contributed to a fundraiser to pay funeral expenses.
More than 150 people watched the funeral on Zoom or walked through the calling hours a few people at a time, she said. It helps, but Brooks said it won’t bring her son back.
Brooks and her two sons have tested negative for COVID. Her mother’s only symptoms were a cold and cough. She’s recovered now.
Brooks wants people to know getting sick from the coronavirus can happen to you, young or old. No one is safe, no one can be sure they will recover.
“We followed the guidelines,” she said. “How can it spread so rapidly? To me, it’s just crazy. I don’t want anyone else to experience what I have just been through.”