5 stressful days before son was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease

In September 2013, when her 2 ½ year old son, Ethan, developed sandpaper-like rashes all over his body after a visit to Gardens by the Bay, Jenna Wong thought it was due to his pollen allergy.

However, when Ethan’s rashes did not subside the next day in spite of antihistamines, and his fever spiked even after he was given paracetamol and ibuprofen, Jenna started to worry. Worse, Ethan started to develop red eyes and lips.

Searching for clues online, Jenna typed out all the symptoms her son had and found two results that piqued her curiosity - scarlet fever and Kawasaki disease.

The following day, a Sunday, Jenna and her husband brought Ethan to a doctor and asked if it could be Kawasaki disease or scarlet fever. The doctor told them that Ethan’s fever hadn’t persisted long enough and prescribed more antihistamines and paracetamol. He also told them to return in two days if Ethan still had fever.

The next day, Ethan still had sandpaper-like rashes, red eyes and fever. Sensing something was not right, Jenna insisted on getting a second opinion and went to another paediatrician on Tuesday. By then, Ethan had had a fever for 5 days.

“We told the doctor, Ethan has Kawasaki disease,” Jenna said. The doctor took them seriously and decided to treat Ethan as though he had Kawasaki disease, even though not all of the symptoms were present. After being given intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), Ethan’s fever subsided right away.

Looking back at the stressful ordeal, Jenna wondered, why isn’t there more information in Singapore about this condition? After all, the complications of Kawasaki disease can be serious, with some patients developing heart aneurysm, arrhythmia and inflammation of the heart muscle (acute myocarditis).

Ethan’s follow-up heart scans three and six months after he was discharged showed that the mild dilatation of his arteries had subsided.

“I don’t stop him from playing - boys will be boys. He’s a healthy and active 4 year old now but still, at the back of my mind, I’m worried that Ethan may have heart complications later on in life, or when he’s doing National Service,” Jenna confesses.

Determined to help other families affected by Kawasaki disease

Jenna is now one of the six core members who form the Kawasaki Disease Support Group Singapore. The group, which was founded in mid-2013, offers support by email or phone to other families affected by Kawasaki disease.

“When I heard that my child has this rare condition, I felt very alone. It was good to learn from other mums about their experiences with Kawasaki disease and pass on that information to other families,” Jenna says.

The support group also aims to raise awareness of Kawasaki disease in schools and childcare centres and connect with the medical community to promote discussion and research on the condition.

“Because a very young child may develop heart complications if untreated in time, we feel that more people should know about Kawasaki disease and learn how to spot it. It could change your child’s life as well as your family’s,” Jenna adds.

Fact Sheet on Jenna Wong
Personal data :36 years old, married with 2 children
Occupation :Entrepreneur
Hobbies :Traveling and cooking
Little-known fact :She lived in Australia for more than 8 years and is pretty good at distinguishing accents.

What are your best 3 tips for parents who suspect their child may have Kawasaki disease or whose children have Kawasaki disease?​

  1. Trust your gut and act fast.

    When the doctor told us that the likelihood of Ethan having scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease was very low, we almost wanted to believe him. My instincts kept telling me otherwise. If you feel that something is different with your child’s fever, trust your gut and take action quickly. The treatment window for Kawasaki disease is short (10 days) so you have to race against time and it could make all the difference.

  2. Know that not all symptoms may be present.

    Ethan had atypical Kawasaki disease - meaning that he didn't have all of its symptoms. If your child has had fever for 5 days but doesn’t have all of the symptoms, it could be atypical Kawasaki disease. Take him to a doctor quickly.

  3. Do an annual heart scan if you can afford it.

    After Ethan was discharged, I thought that we should continue to do an annual heart scan. It may be a bit expensive but it is non-invasive and gives you peace of mind that your child’s heart is alright.

Ref: Q15