Family Spreads Awareness After Toddler Dies Of Suspected Tick-Borne Illness

by Valerie Williams
Originally Published: 
Image via GoFundMe

Kenley died eight days after showing symptoms

The family of a toddler who passed away this week is speaking out to warn parents about the dangers of tick bites in the hopes that her tragic death will help raise awareness.

Kenley Ratliff was only two when she lost her life to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, an infection caused by tick bites. According to TODAY, the little girl died only eight days after her symptoms began. Although the pain of losing their daughter is still very fresh, the family wants to help save lives by telling her story.

“If we could save one child’s life then we will have done our job,” Jordan Clapp, Kenley’s aunt, tells TODAY. “Kayla [Kenley’s mom] is so devastated. Spreading awareness is therapeutic.”

Image via GoFundMe


CBS News reports that blood tests came back days after her death confirming she was suffering from Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but before that, doctors thought the child had strep throat. “Maybe 10 days later, she started developing a fever and other symptoms,” explains Dr. Chandy John, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who cared for Kenley at the University of Indiana’s Riley Children’s Hospital.

Kenley’s mother, Kayla Conn, first brought her daughter to the local emergency room when the toddler spiked a 103.8 degree fever. She was prescribed amoxicillin, hydration and rest, along with instructions to return if her condition didn’t improve. The next day, with a fever of 104, Kayla brought Kenley back to the ER where she was given a strep test, which came back positive.

Clapp tells TODAY, “They gave her the same treatment and told Kayla to keep Kenley hydrated and come back if she doesn’t improve.”

Three days later, the fever was still there. “Now we were on the panicky side,” Clapp recounts. “Some time had passed because doctors told Kayla to wait and let the antibiotics work.” That’s when Kenley was brought to Riley Children’s Hospital and on the way there, Clapp says the child “went completely limp.”

“Her eyes closed and my sister had to hold her head up.”

Image via GoFundMe


The doctors at Riley changed Kenley’s antibiotics and that’s when the red spotting appeared on her arms and legs, a sign of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This was the first sign that the initial diagnosis of strep may have been wrong and once Kenley’s brain began to swell and her organs started failing, they knew something much worse was happening.

But it was too late.

Looking back, the family acknowledges that Kenley spent a lot of time outside with Clapp noting the child had been camping recently. Dr. Paige Armstrong, a medical epidemiologist with the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be difficult to diagnose.

“It is a disease that can present with very non-specific signs and symptoms. In the early stages there can be high fever, headache and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The rash tends not to develop until days two or four in children and rashes can be quite common with viruses,” she explains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the symptoms for Rocky Mountain spotted fever are:

  • Fever.
  • Rash (occurs 2-5 days after fever, may be absent in some cases; see below)
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain (may mimic appendicitis or other causes of acute abdominal pain)
  • Muscle pain.
  • Lack of appetite.

Early diagnosis is key in preventing children from dying of this disease, so if your child has spent time outdoors and presents with these symptoms, have them seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. Kenley’s family is sharing her story to help ensure no other families suffer the same fate.

If you’d like to help the family, there’s a GoFundMe page for Kenley. There’s going to be a celebration of life her today at Hazelwood Christian Church, in Clayton, Indiana.

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