Father, son urge vaccination after teen spends three weeks in hospital with COVID

September 16, 2021
a young man in a hospital gown stands with the help of a walker and two staffers
Occupational therapist Stacie Forehand, left, and physical therapist Caitlin Keller help Christian Davila out his bed for therapy at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. Photos by Sarah Pack

Like most 17-year-olds, Christian Davila and his friends figured they were invincible. They certainly weren’t worried about COVID-19.

“We saw it as, ‘Oh, we’re young. Our bodies can fight it off easier than others,’” said Christian, of Little River, South Carolina.

His father, Anthony Rainey, was also unafraid.   

“To be honest, when this first came out, I thought it was a joke. I’m not going to lie,” he said, sitting by Christian’s bedside.

But with Christian’s three-week stay at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, including a couple of weeks on a ventilator, father and son know all too well how serious COVID-19 is. They each received their first dose of the vaccine this week, and they’re encouraging others to get vaccinated as well. In fact, some of Christian’s friends have already gotten the vaccine as have Rainey’s co-workers.

“People want to imagine that previously healthy children can’t get sick with COVID, can’t get severely ill with COVID, can’t die from COVID, and that’s simply not true,” said Elizabeth Mack, M.D., chief of pediatric critical care medicine. “Christian is an example of that, and I am so grateful to them for all that they have done already in the community. Even though they’ve been going through this themselves, they’ve thought about other people all along the way.”

Christian became ill in August after an outing with friends. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Aug. 16. At first, he had extremely high fevers that wouldn’t come down. After about a week, when he started experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain, his parents took him to the local hospital. After a few days, he was transferred to another hospital and then SJCH.

Because the rest of the family had COVID, too, they couldn’t visit Christian. Instead, they had to get updates on his condition through phone calls. When Rainey was cleared to visit and he walked into his son’s room for the first time, to see Christian hooked up to tubes and a ventilator, his heart just dropped, he said.

a father sits in a darkened hospital room 
Anthony Rainey sits in his son's hospital room.

Not only have Christian’s lungs been affected, he said, but the disease has also affected his liver and kidneys. And even once Christian is released from the hospital, they don’t know what future damage may show up because of COVID, he said.

“For any parent, you don’t want to see this. You don’t want your child to be here,” he said. “As a parent, you feel like you failed.”

Rainey said he’s watched the staff caring for his son and other children on the floor, and he would never want to be in their shoes.

“I have witnessed firsthand that these doctors and nurses are all hands on deck, at all times. You don’t just have one doctor. You don’t just have one nurse. You have a whole team here that will do anything they can to help,” he said.

Unfortunately, said Mack, we are not on the other side of this COVID surge.

“This has been the roughest week so far of the pandemic for children in this state,” she said. “We are not seeing the virus abating, in terms of severity of illness in children.”

The South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative reported that, as of Sept. 16, there are 36 children in the four children’s hospitals in the state. Of those, only one is vaccinated. Of the remaining 35, 60% are old enough to be vaccinated, and 40% are under 12 years old and therefore ineligible for the vaccine. Of the 36 children, 16 are in intensive care and six are on ventilators.

None of the children hospitalized at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital over the course of the pandemic has been vaccinated, Mack said. Of note, about half were of age to be eligible for the vaccination.

a young man sits in a hospital gown with an oxygen tube attached to his nose 
Christian Davila in his hospital room in Charleston.

Christian is making good progress in his recovery. Just a few days ago, his labored breathing prevented him from saying more than a word or two at a time. Now he can speak in sentences again. He’s working with physical therapists and occupational therapists who are helping him to take on ordinary tasks like walking. What he’d like more than anything is to be home in his own bed, he said.

Rainey urged people to get vaccinated. It’s not a cure, he said, but it will reduce the symptoms and hopefully prevent people from being in his son’s position.

“I don’t wish this on anybody. I really don’t,” he said.


Christian Davila's story

South Carolina family urges vaccination after teen's COVID scare.