Updated April 19, 2021 - 5:50 pm
An 18-year-old Clark County woman who became critically ill after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has undergone three brain surgeries related to dangerous blood clots, a spokesman for the patient’s family said on Monday.
The young woman, Emma Burkey, began to feel ill about a week after being vaccinated on or about April 1, eventually experiencing seizures that sent her to the hospital, spokesman Bret Johnson said.
Burkey was first treated at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus, in Henderson before being airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California for specialized care. Her parents, Russ and Kathy, are at her bedside, but only for a brief period each day due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“She is improving slowly,” Johnson said in an interview. “The word we got from her parents last night was ‘slowly, slowly slowly.’”
Burkey has been taken out of an induced coma and off a respirator. She has a tracheostomy tube that impedes speech, but she is mouthing some words and blinking her eyes to communicate, her parents told Johnson.
“She can 3/4 smile at will, and she likes to tease me about how bad I read lips,” Russ Burkey said in an online update from Sunday night.
Although Burkey has experienced a “massive brain injury,” her parents are “cautiously optimistic,” Johnson said.
“They’re cautiously optimistic because she is improving, but very, very slowly,” said Johnson, president and founder of The Hastening, a local ministry where Russ Burkey serves as a volunteer.
To assist with Burkey’s medical expenses, which already have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Johnson has organized a GoFundMe fundraiser that had raised more than $10,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Federal regulators have suspended the use of the J&J vaccine, also known as the Janssen vaccine, pending an investigation of six reported cases, including the one in Clark County, that involve rare blood clots in the brain.
The six women, between the ages of 18 and 48, experienced cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, where clots occur in veins that drain blood from the brain. The blood clots occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. About 7 million doses of the single-dose vaccine have been administered in the U.S.
On Monday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that health officials are investigating “a handful” of new but unconfirmed reports of blood clots. Nor is it clear whether the vaccine was responsible for the original half dozen cases.
As soon as Friday, a committee advising the CDC could recommend whether to lift suspension of the vaccine’s use.
“If you follow the national news, the J & J vaccine has been put on hold because of these rare cases,” states a post on Burkey’s GoFundMe page. “Unfortunately, Emma is the ‘one in a million’ here.”