Mom of adenovirus victim: Parents should have been told sooner of outbreak in Wanaque


The mother of an 18-year-old who contracted a virus that has claimed the lives of 10 children at a long-term care facility in Wanaque said she had to plead with members of the the center’s staff to take her daughter to a hospital when she developed symptoms last weekend.  

The mother was interviewed on Friday afternoon as the state Health Department was announcing that two more children have been sickened as a result of the ongoing adenovirus outbreak at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.

The outbreak has now affected 31 children and one staff member at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.

“Can you guess how much worse she would be if I hadn’t told them that she needed to be at a hospital?” the mother said. “It shouldn’t have come down to this.”

A spokesman for the Wanaque center did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

The mother, who lives in New York City and spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy, has been at her daughter’s bedside at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson almost the entire week. She said her daughter’s condition has improved since she was admitted early Monday.

Like many other parents with children at the Wanaque center, the mother said she did not know there had been a deadly viral outbreak at the facility until two weeks ago, when she saw a television news report that six children had died. She had received a letter from the facility a few days earlier informing her that some children had contracted the virus, but there was no mention of how many were sick or that some had died. 

“Why did they keep this from us?” she said. “I check on her religiously. I call several times a day. By not telling us, they didn’t give us any options.

“We could have intervened,” she added. “We could have asked that our kids be transferred to someplace else. I would have gone there. I would have taken care of my daughter and make sure everything was wiped down, that everything was done to make sure she wouldn’t get sick.”

Her daughter was born with cerebral palsy and lived with her mother and twin sister in an apartment in New York City. She suddenly went into cardiac arrest when she was 12, leaving her in a vegetative state, her mother said. The Wanaque center, 30 miles from the family’s home, was the closest long-term care center for children that had a bed open and would accept Medicaid. 

The mother described the care at Wanaque as decent although she said she had to stay on top of the staff, which she said suffered from constant turnover. She said she and her daughter’s father would visit on alternating weekends. She said she would call the nurses’ station at least once a day asking for her daughter’s vital conditions and chronicling them in notebooks, of which she has now amassed at least 20. 

“I’m not going to lie; they took pretty good care of her,” she said. “I had to be on top of them, but the treatment was overall good.”

The mother grew increasingly concerned about the outbreak as more and more children became sick and the death toll rose. After the outbreak became public, she said nurses and aides began wearing masks and gowns, and using stronger disinfecting wipes.

“If the Health Department was there and everyone was taking precautions, then how did the virus spread to my daughter?” she said.

When she visited on Saturday, Nov. 5, she was concerned that there were yellowish secretions coming out of her daughter’s mouth. She called the next day and was told the secretions were still present, and that her daughter had developed a temperature that reached 99.6 degrees. 

The mother told staff members that she wanted her daughter to be evaluated at a hospital. “But they kept saying that she was doing OK,” she said. “They said they were giving her Tylenol for the fever and were going to give her a chest X-ray. But I kept telling them that she needed to be taken to a hospital.”

The daughter was taken to St. Joseph’s at 1 a.m. Monday. The level of oxygen in her bloodstream plummeted and she was given 80 percent pure oxygen in the emergency room to help restore those levels, the mother said. 

Her daughter was diagnosed later that day with adenovirus. She developed pneumonia as a secondary infection. Her blood pressure and blood sugar spiked through the week, her mother said. 

The daughter had stabilized by Friday afternoon, and the doctors were hopeful that she would recover, the mother said. 

But she doesn’t want her child to return to Wanaque once she’s better. She said she would like for parents of the Wanaque victims to band together and demand that their children be taken somewhere other than the center.

“I don’t feel good at all bringing her back there,” she said. “I want to bring her home with me. I don’t have enough room, but I don’t want anyone else looking after her anymore.”

The Wanaque center is one of only four in the state that accept pediatric long-term care patients. The others are in Voorhees, Mountainside and Toms River. 

Another case in Camden County

Meanwhile, state health officials announced Friday that a second outbreak of a milder strain of adenovirus at the Voorhees Pediatric Facility in Camden County has now sickened seven children.

The two outbreaks appear unrelated, state health officials said. More than 50 strains of adenovirus have been identified nationwide by scientists, and the Wanaque outbreak is caused by type 7, while the Voorhees outbreak is caused by type 3. 

More: Mother of sickened teen sues Wanaque center where 10 have died in adenovirus outbreak

More: Adenovirus victim’s parents: Shut down Wanaque center where 10 children died

The state has conducted spot inspections at both facilities and dispatched teams with expertise in infection control to assess both centers and educate staff members. A member of the Health Department’s staff is currently posted at the Wanaque center. Both facilities have ceased new admissions until the outbreaks are over. 

Adenovirus typically causes illnesses ranging from sore throats, coughs and pneumonia to diarrhea and pink eye. In those with weakened immune systems, it can be far more severe. Many of the children at the long-term care centers rely on ventilators to breathe and feeding tubes for nutrition.  

The most recent patients to be sickened were diagnosed this week, as late asThursday. An outbreak is considered over when two consecutive two-week incubation periods have passed. If no new cases are identified, the outbreak will be deemed over on Dec. 6.


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