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Ont. mother fights for special exemption for toddler in ICU with RSV

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A Cookstown, Ont. mother is fighting for a special exemption for her toddler to receive an antibody treatment for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, after being denied by the Ministry of Health.

"They said he doesn't qualify. He doesn't meet the qualifications, and we (the ministry) are not convinced if he got RSV it would be a major life event requiring hospitalization," said Lauren Dempsey.

Every couple of days, Dempsey trades off with her husband, making the trip south to Toronto's SickKids Hospital, where her three-year-old son George has been fighting RSV, a common respiratory virus, for nearly two weeks. He is now intubated and in the intensive care unit.

"The fear (we have) is, is he going to come off the intubation tube? Are we going to be able to wean him from that? Is there going to be a dependency?" said Dempsey.

In January 2020, RSV landed George in the hospital for two months.

Around that same time, his parents learned he had a rare form of spinal muscular atrophy, which affects every muscle in his body, making it more difficult for him to battle the virus.

"Kids with a neuromuscular can't cough it up in a way that a normal child or an able-body child would be able to," said Dempsey, explaining how RSV impacts her son.

Because of this, George qualified for an antibody treatment to protect him against RSV, which is available primarily to high-risk children under the age of two.

"That's what the studies show the best impact for reducing hospitalization and intensive care for those babies with high risk," said Dr. Vincent Ho, a pediatrician with Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie. "The child or baby can still get infected. It's just that it tends to be less severe with this on board."

The monthly treatment was available to George until recently, when he aged-out.

In September, Dempsey applied to the Ministry of Health for special consideration, and attached a letter of support from SickKids that reads in part, "This patient is at high risk of severe RSV disease this winter and prevention strategies such as RSV prophylaxis is incredibly important to his overall lung health."

However, the ministry denied the request and with her son now in hospital, Dempsey is fearful for his future.

"He is in SickKids fighting for his life, intubated from a common cold virus that he could have had some sort of protection from," she said.

With RSV cases on the rise, Dempsey said she would continue to fight for an exemption for her son.

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