Five-year-old boy stays #EJStrong through traumatizing recovery

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 8:30 PM EDT
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PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - It was a family vacation turned complete nightmare.

“If we would have gave up a month ago when they wanted us to give up and turn him over to palliative care, we wouldn’t have heard him talk again.”

Michael Lyles, father

The Lyles Family of Greenville was driving to Atlanta on a road trip when they pulled over to make some adjustments to their driving. As mother Sophia Lyles was walking around to the driver’s side, she and her family’s car was struck by another vehicle.

Sophia Lyles suffered several broken bones and required surgery on her wrist. She was admitted to an area hospital’s intensive care unit where she remained for almost two weeks.

During her recovery, her son, EJ, began showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was taken to the hospital where he tested positive for the virus and was told to go home, get rest, and rotate fever-reducing medications.

His condition began to worsen and he stopped walking.

The family took EJ back to the hospital where they were again sent home to let him rest.

After Sophia was released from care, the family came back to the East and immediately brought EJ to Vidant Medical Center.

There, he was found to be septic, infected with MRSA, and experiencing multiple organ failures.

“The COVID just suppressed his immune system,” his mother said.

“So, as soon as he got the MRSA in his body, it just took over his whole body. He really was in a lose-lose situation. And we were all tested before we went to Georgia and we all tested negative.”

Sophia Lyles, mother

He was airlifted to Duke Medical Center, which was better equipped to handle his care.

Thus began weeks of touch-and-go status for EJ. Doctors prepared the family for the worst.

“We were basically preparing for our child’s death. Everything that the hospital was doing... they were doing the handprints and the molds, and everything they were doing was basically preparing for his death,” recalled Sophia “And we were just like, ‘No! This can’t be it!’”

EJ’s heart and lungs were failing. He began to turn an orange-yellow color as his body clung to life.

Surgeons advised the family to seek palliative care options and to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). They said that EJ’s chances of survival were less than 10%.

But the Lyles’ begged for doctors to perform the necessary surgeries EJ needed to regain control of his organ function.

His condition varied, but after noticing a perforated bowel, doctors became confident enough to perform an exploratory surgery.

They removed EJ’s gallbladder, half of his colon, and a portion of his small intestine.

The focus then shifted to EJ’s failing heart. He needed an aortic valve transplant, but doctors were afraid of what they might find when they opened him up.

“The doctors told us over and over that he will not live through this, and we prayed every day, religiously,” said EJ’s mother.

EJ survived a mechanical valve replacement and made it through recovery with what his parents recall as “flying colors.”

A few weeks later, EJ is now able to speak, stand, eat, and work through physical therapy tasks.

He would be starting kindergarten at H.B. Sugg Elementary School in Farmville, but until then, his school wants him to know that he is still a member of its family.

“Our school, we have a message of grit, and EJ exemplifies the message of grit to the highest extent,” said principal Ali Setser.

Sophia Lyles feels like she is finally able to see glimpses of her son again.

“We’re not close to being done, but we’re so much farther than we were,” she said.

The family has been keeping their family and friends updated on EJ’s condition via the Facebook page #EJStrong. But they never anticipated it to gain the following it has.

Over 6,000 people have liked the page to follow EJ’s journey. The family says they’ve been reached out to by people from all over the world.

They share EJ’s story because they want to inspire other parents who may be going through the critical illness of their child.

“We don’t want parents to give up. And we knew our kid was a fighter,” said Sophia.

EJ’s conditions are trending upward, but his stability remains in the air. He has a long journey to full recovery and will have to undergo major surgeries in the future. But for now, he has the community support of Eastern Carolina on his side.

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