Kenzi Lunsford is your typical 12-year-old junior high student. She plays basketball at Washington Junior High and likes to hang out with her friends. But one thing sets Kenzie apart from thousands of other kids her age. She has Kawasaki disease, a serious medical condition that inflames the blood vessels and is the leading cause of heart disease in children.
In 2011, Kenzie developed two spots on her stomach. Not wanting the spots to spread, her mom, Nikki, took her to the doctor and Kenzie was diagnosed with what doctors thought was Fifths disease, a common ailment in children.
Kenzie was prescribed antibiotics but then she started developing severe headaches.
“Her headaches were so bad, she couldn’t stand lights or sound,” said Nikki. “So I took her to the emergency room for the headaches and by then, she was dehydrated and her liver enzymes were raised.”
A battery of tests were run on Kenzie at Daviess Community Hospital but the headaches persisted.
“I knew something was really wrong,” said Nikki. “I just had this feeling that what Kenzie had wasn’t Fifths disease.”
In addition to the headaches, Kenzie also had an extremely high fever and the rash had spread to the whites of her eyes. Her lymph nodes were also swollen.
A return trip to her doctor’s office in Vincennes. It was there that a physician’s assistant first told the Lunsford’s about Kawasaki disease.
“They told us we needed to go to St. Mary’s in Evansville and that we had 10 days to start treatment,” Nikki said.
Kawasaki disease is more prevalent among children under the age of five and is more common in boys than girls.
“The cause of Kawasaki is unknown,” said Nikki. “But it is believed to be caused by a virus. There’s also no specific test they can do to confirm the disease.”
Doctors look for a specific set of symptoms when diagnosing Kawasaki disease. Most common symptoms of the illness include a fever that lasts more than five days, rashes, bloodshot eyes, bright red, swollen and cracked lips, a “strawberry tongue” with shiny red spots, swollen hands and feet and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
“Kenzie never had the strawberry tongue, or the peeling,” said Nikki. “You have to have five symptoms to be diagnosed and if you don’t start treatment within 10 days, the heart can be severely damaged.”
Immunoglobulin (IVIG) treatments were given to Kenzie to help reduce the inflammation in her blood vessels as well as a high dose of aspirin therapy. After two days, she was sent home but the headaches persisted and Kenzie started seeing double.
A trip to a doctor in Terre Haute resulted in a trip to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital where she underwent a spinal tap, EKG, and several MRIs to check for Sixth Nerve Palsy, a condition that affected Kenzie’s ability to turn her eyes.
“Kawasaki is so rare, the doctor asked if we cared if some of the medical students came in to see her. They said her case may be the only one they ever see,” said Nikki.
Today Kenzie leads a normal life. “I’m on a heart healthy diet and I get EKGs and echocardiograms from time to time,” said Kenzie.
Sunday was the fourth annual Kawasaki’s Awareness Day, a day Mayor Joe Wellman proclaimed last week as well, and Monday many of Kenzie’s teammates and friends wore special shirts to school that said “I love Kenzie’s Heart.” Family members also had special shirts made for the special day.
“All the money from the shirts we purchased went to the Kawasaki Disease Foundation,” said Sarah Lancaster, one of Kenzie’s friends and teammates. “I want to help other people like Kenzie.”
Several of Kenzie’s friends, including Lancaster, didn’t realize their friend had the disease until just a few weeks ago. “I was scared when I first found out,” said Lancaster. “Kenzie had never acted any different. I’m so glad doctors were able to catch hers early.”
To help raise more awareness for the disease the Lunsford family has planned a 5K run/walk event set for June 21.
“We want to help fund research,” said Nikki. “We want to discover the unknowns about the Kawasaki.”