By Nancy Degnan
Jennie Dillion Heneks’s superpower is giving the gift of life through blood donations.
Jennie was inspired to become a blood donor with the American Red Cross after her son, Des, became ill with Kawasaki disease (KD). He needed an immediate blood treatment, and Jennie gained a new appreciation for blood donors as she watched her 4-year-old son receive the intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) that would help him recover.
Jennie and Des want to create awareness around recognizing the onset of KD, the importance of quick intervention, and the lifesaving value of blood. KD is a rare condition that mainly affects children; it causes swelling in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. The inflammation tends to affect the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. When Jennie initially brought her son to the emergency room, Des had a high fever and couldn’t walk due to foot pain and peeling on his toes. These are symptoms noted in the second phase of the disease. (In the third and final phase, signs and symptoms slowly subside.)
The good news is that most kids with KD recover completely, but early action is key. There’s a knowledge gap when it comes to diagnosing KD, and that can result in unnecessary delays. Within the 10-day window of the onset of the condition, parents are important advocates for their kids in dealing with health care providers. Symptoms to watch for: a fever that lasts three to four days, redness in both eyes, a very red and swollen tongue, redness of the palms or soles, skin peeling, a rash, and swollen lymph nodes.
As mentioned, recognizing the early signs—ideally during the first phase—is key. When KD is diagnosed and treated within the first 10 days, there’s a better chance of full recovery without residual problems. The longer the symptoms progress, the higher the likelihood of long-term damage and the need for ongoing treatments.
Jennie is thankful that the on-call doctor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was a cardiologist familiar with KD. Thanks to the rapid diagnosis, Des was treated with one IVIG treatment over the course of 36 hours and observed in the ICU for the next seven days to ensure his recovery.
Today, Des is a healthy 13-year-old with a black belt in karate. He is living a full life, thanks to the blood treatment he received at age 4.
Jennie and Des are heroes with heart. Jennie is giving life by giving blood, and with the help of her son, she is creating awareness of the symptoms associated with KD. By helping parents and doctors recognize the early warning signs, she hopes young patients with KD can recover quickly and keep sharing their smiles!