weather icon Mostly Cloudy

COVID-19 testing meant separation for young Las Vegas family

Updated March 27, 2020 - 8:13 am

First came the cough.

It was unlike anything his parents had heard before. Deep, dry and desperate, like a plea for help.

Within 48 hours, 9-month-old Caleb Anderson would be quarantined at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, his condition rapidly deteriorating as doctors tested him for the novel coronavirus.

Because of his symptoms, hospital staff had no choice but to separate the Anderson family, a divide that came on as abruptly as the symptoms that took over Caleb’s little body.

But on Thursday afternoon, days earlier than expected, Caleb’s test results came back: They were negative for COVID-19 but positive for hMPV, or human metapneumovirus, a respiratory infection with symptoms identical to the new coronavirus.

Rachael and Cody Anderson let out a sigh of relief. God had answered their prayers, and their son’s negative test results ended what could have been a minimum two-week separation.

Even so, the Anderson family’s experience offers an intimate glimpse into the lonely and isolating process of coronavirus testing, and how some doctors in the Las Vegas Valley are proactively treating patients who show symptoms of COVID-19 while waiting for confirmation.

“I can only compare the process of being tested to the story in the Bible of leprosy,” Rachael Anderson, who had been quarantined with her son, said Thursday. “No one can come close to you, no one wants to come close to you, and no one wants to talk to you. It makes you feel so isolated.”

An extra chromosome

To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults make up most known cases of the coronavirus, which is said to cause severe illness in those 65 and older or in individuals with underlying medical conditions.

If Caleb had tested positive for COVID-19, he would have been among the less than 0.3 percent of patients in Southern Nevada younger than 4.

But to his doctors and parents, such an unlikely test result seemed possible because of Caleb’s complicated medical history.

At 13 weeks, an ultrasound revealed that Caleb had an extra chromosome. At 29 weeks, doctors noticed he had stopped growing inside the womb.

Caleb Anderson was born prematurely at 34 weeks. Doctors said he stopped growing inside the wom ...
Caleb Anderson was born prematurely at 34 weeks. Doctors said he stopped growing inside the womb at 29 weeks. (Rachael Anderson)

Caleb arrived just over a month later, at 34 weeks, on a hot day in June after an emergency cesarean section. He was barely alive.

Later that day, the Andersons met their son for the first time. He was swaddled in a black-and-white striped blanket and hooked up to tubes and machines in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The machines rumbled and beeped, but Caleb slept peacefully. He was so tiny, weighing just 4 pounds, 10 ounces. His small head was fuzzy like a peach.

He was perfect.

“I had so much fear after the Down syndrome diagnosis, but when I met him, I knew in that moment I’d never want to change him for the world,” Rachael Anderson said.

Caleb spent the next two months in the NICU before finally going home with his parents. He suffers from a congenital heart defect, a compromised immune system and a chronic lung disease common in premature babies.

Since leaving the NICU that first time, Caleb has been admitted to the hospital more than 10 times with different viruses, according to his mother. This go-round, Caleb’s doctors thought he might have been exposed to COVID-19 in early March, during his last hospital stay after he came down with the flu.

Precautionary treatment plan

Caleb Anderson's chest X-ray, taken on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at Summerlin Hospital Medical ...
Caleb Anderson's chest X-ray, taken on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center, revealed his airway had collapsed. Doctors suspected the 9-month-old boy had COVID-19, but the test results came back negative the next day. (Rachael Anderson)

By the time Caleb arrived at the hospital around 3 a.m. Wednesday, his oxygen level had plummeted and his temperature had spiked to 104.5 degrees.

Familiar with Caleb’s medical history, his doctors immediately took him in for a chest X-ray, and soon, the black-and-white image showed that the boy’s airway had collapsed.

Around the same time Caleb was admitted, his father, who had parked the car while his wife ran inside, was being turned away at the doors of the hospital.

“It was kind of a luck of the draw,” Cody Anderson said. “Rachael brought him in, so Rachael got to stay.”

Even before the chest X-ray, doctors suspected Caleb had contracted the coronavirus and committed to a proactive treatment plan as though the boy’s test already had come back positive.

The 23-year-0ld father turned around, got back in his car and drove home alone.

As a precaution, Caleb’s doctors also had asked Cody Anderson to self-quarantine. Separated from his family, he sat at home for nearly two days, anxiously awaiting updates from his wife.

Temporary but mandatory separation

A screenshot of Cody Anderson FaceTiming with his wife, Rachael, and their son, Caleb, who doct ...
A screenshot of Cody Anderson FaceTiming with his wife, Rachael, and their son, Caleb, who doctors suspected had COVID-19. The family could only interact through their phone screens while Rachael Anderson and the baby were quarantined at the hospital. (Cody Anderson)

While apart, the Andersons could interact only through their phone screens — a situation all too common amid a global pandemic that has essentially shut down the entire country and forced people to work and study from home.

Coast to coast, including here in Nevada, doctors and nurses have struggled with the unfathomable reality that their patients are dying alone.

As of Thursday morning, Caleb’s condition had stabilized and his fever had gone down, though the boy still was “coughing like crazy” and struggling to breathe, his mother said.

Doctors have him on high-flow oxygen support, a form of respiratory therapy, and different medications.

Though the Andersons received the result they prayed for this time, Caleb’s mother suspects there will be many more scares. Between Caleb’s frequent doctor visits and hospitalizations, the boy generally has a higher risk of exposure than the average infant, his parents said.

“I know it’s hard staying at home for days on end, but you have to think about what’s best for everybody,” Caleb’s father said, pleading with the public to take social distancing guidelines seriously. “Especially for those who can’t take care of themselves or are immunocompromised, like my son.”

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Local Videos
Fremont Street Experience is counting down to reopening - Video
A countdown clock is running for the reopening of the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas on Friday afternoon, May 29, 2020. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CrossFit Apollo reopens after COVID-19 shutdown - Video
CrossFit Apollo gym co-owner and a member talk about their first day back, Friday, May 29, 2020, after gyms and fitness centers were closed during the coronavirus shutdown. (Glenn Puit and Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gym owner Rob Martinez talks about reopening.
Rob Martinez, owner of The Gym Las Vegas, talks about reopening his gym under Phase Two of Nevada's reopening plan. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas gyms reopen.
Desiree Ford talks about getting back to the gym after Nevada moves into Phase Two of its reopening plan. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CrossFit gym reopens
Chad Cole, co-owner of CrossFit Apollo, talks about the reopening of his gym as Nevada moves into Phase Two. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Train carrying decommissioned nuclear reactor passes through Las Vegas - VIDEO
The train carrying a decommissioned nuclear reactor vessel from Southern California is passing through Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MountainView Hospital protest
Nurses at MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas hold a protest Thursday morning over what they say are planned layoffs and pay cuts by the hospital’s owner, HCA Healthcare. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
COVID-19 testing site moves to UNLV Tropicana parking garage - Video
New Clark County COVID-19 testing site at UNLV Tropicana Avenue parking garage opens Wednesday and includes pediatric and walk-up testing. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist killed in crash in southwest Las Vegas - Video
Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Travis Smaka confirmed a motorcyclist was killed in a crash with another vehicle at Durango Drive and the 215 Beltway just before 9 a.m., Monday, May 25, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas man runs 100-mile marathon for veterans on Memorial Day - Video
Pete Madredes ran a 100-mile marathon at Exploration Peak Park in Las Vegas to raise money for Mission 22, a nonprofit that supports veterans with mental illness. He started Sunday morning, May 24, and ended Memorial Day morning. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Neon Museum reopens after coronavirus shutdown - Video
The Neon Museum reopened Friday night, May 22, after it shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working at home with kids
Educators Jessica Houchins and Christopher Houchins discuss their work life merged with their parenting life during quarantine, at their home in Henderson on Thursday, May 14, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
6.5 earthquake in western Nevada - Video
A 6.5-magnitude earthquake damaged U.S. Highway 95, which was closed west of Tonopah near Coaldale, on Friday, May 15, 2020. (Nye County Sheriff's Department)
Southern Nevada Health District discusses contact tracing
Devin Raman, senior disease investigator at SNHD, explains how contact tracing works, noting how local clusters of disease are tracked.
Cowabunga Bay Prepares For Patrons
The management and staff at Cowabunga Bay in hopes of opening soon are implementing coronavirus safety measures to ensure patrons are happy and safe.
Pickleball courts coming to Sunset Park - Video
Clark County officials broke ground Tuesday on a championship pickleball tournament complex at Sunset Park, expected to open by next spring. (Clark County)
Great-grandmother meets great-granddaughter through window
A global pandemic couldn't keep June Watkins from meeting her 1-month-old great-granddaughter, even if it had to be through a window. Christie Jensen, the baby's mother, brought together four generations of women with her mother, DeeDee Jensen, when they brought the baby to meet Watkins for the first time ahead of Mother's Day on Sunday.
Firefighters deliver free pizza to coronavirus testers - VIDEO
The Professional Firefighters of Nevada delivered free pizza and soft drinks to Nevada National Guard members and health care workers who are performing COVID-19 testing at the UNLV School of Medicine. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police investigate fatal crash - VIDEO
One person died at University Medical Center after a two-vehicle crash at West Russell and South Fort Apache roads, Thursday morning, May 7. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Southern Nevada Health District COVID-19 update
Southern Nevada Health District staff conduct a video briefing to provide updates about the public health agency’s COVID-19 response in Clark County.
Greg Zanis, the cross maker, has died - VIDEO
Greg Zanis was the Illinois carpenter who built and erected the 58 simple white crosses in the shadow of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that turned into a focal point for a city’s grief after the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting in 2017. He died on Monday, May 4, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seniors, people with disabilities getting special shopping hour at Costco - VIDEO
Costco will implement new rules Monday that, in addition to requiring face masks, will allow seniors 60 and older to shop from 9-10 a.m. weekdays. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson Coalition for Responsible Government protest
Henderson Coalition for Responsible Government protest. (Julie Wootton-Greener/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Desert Oasis students celebrate senior prom with parade - VIDEO
Desert Oasis High School’s senior prom was supposed to be held Saturday, but it was canceled when schools statewide were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson winery reacts to Sisolak's economic plan - VIDEO
Governor Sisolak's reopening plan is easier said than done for the only winery in Clark County. Grape Expectations is trying to figure out how to open up shop when they are three businesses in one. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Locals rush to reopened tennis courts
Daniel Nunez and Sarah Germain made immediate plans to go to their local tennis court, Darling Tennis Center, when they received an email that the facility would open on May 1.
Allegiant Air employees deliver snacks and drinks to food pantry - VIDEO
Allegiant Air donated food items to the Vegas Community Pantry in Las Vegas. The snack and drinks are commissary items that Allegiant planned to serve to passengers who were flying to Las Vegas for March Madness. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Health care workers protest over unsafe working conditions - VIDEO
Healthcare workers from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) gather at Southern Hills Hospital to protest unsafe working conditions at Las Vegas HCA-affiliated hospitals and demand that OSHA intervene. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
You had questions, and we've got the answers! Renee Summerour sits down with Dr. Brian Labus, epidemiologist with the UNLV School of Public Health and member of the governor's medical advisory team, and RJ health reporter Mary Hynes to answer viewer questions regarding the coronavirus spread in Nevada. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal) THIS WEEK WE COVERED A LOT OF TOPICS: 1. POSTPONED MEDICAL/DENTAL PROCEDURES 2. GOV. SISOLASK ANNOUNCES TO EXTEND STAY-AT-HOME ORDER 3. THIS THE STAY AT HOME ORDER PART OF THE "ROAD TO RECOVERY PLAN"? 4. WILL THERE BE A MASK REQUIREMENT STATEWIDE? 5. DOES WEATHER PLAN A ROLE IN THE SPREAD OF COVID-19? 6. WHERE IS NEVADA THIS WEEK ON ANTIBODY TESTING? 7. MYTH: AIR CONDITIONER CAN CAUSE CORONAVIRUS 8. IS IT SAFE TO GO BACK OUTSIDE? BEACHES? HIKING? ETC?
Fire at strip mall in east Las Vegas - VIDEO
Firefighters battle a blaze at Nellis Plaza at 1000 N. Nellis Blvd. in east Las Vegas, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Hall marks Israeli Independence Day - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Hall’s lights turned blue and white Tuesday night to mark Israel’s 72nd Independence Day. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lines move quickly through CCSD food distribution sites - VIDEO
Individuals pick up packaged meals from Clark County School District food distribution sites on Tuesday morning, April 28, 2020: Basic Academy of International Studies in Henderson and Kelly Elementary School in Las Vegas. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Neighborhood rallies behind grad amid the coronavirus lockdown
Riley Lynn Thacker's mom put a sign in their yard to congratulate her daughter completing her senior year and neighbors followed suit. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)