Metro-East News

2-year-old Belleville girl fighting for life because of rare disease related to flu

Do your part to stop the spread of flu at home

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?
Up Next
What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

A 2-year-old Belleville girl went from having mild flu symptoms to being rushed by ambulance to St. Louis Children’s Hospital in an unresponsive state in a matter of hours.

Layla Thomas has been diagnosed with necrotic encephalitis, also known as necrotizing encephalopathy. It’s a rare disease characterized by brain damage that often follows viral infections, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Basically, the flu attacked her brain and caused massive swelling,” said Jessica Kile, 27, of Millstadt, who’s engaged to Layla’s uncle, David Aubuschon.

Layla tested positive for influenza A at Memorial Hospital in Belleville, where an ambulance took her initially on March 18. She was quickly transferred to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“It’s a 50/50 chance of survival right now,” Kile said Friday morning. “And if she does make it, there’s going to be a long road to recovery.”

Layla’s 3rd birthday is next Thursday. Her parents are Victoria Aubuschon, a stay-at-home mom, and her fiance, C.J. Thomas, a railroad conductor. They also have an 8-month-old daughter, Adilynn Thomas.

Layla portrait.jpg
Two-year-old Layla Thomas lives in Belleville with her parents, Victoria Aubuschon and C.J. Thomas. She now is fighting for her life at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Provided

As of Friday morning, Layla was in “stable” condition in the hospital’s intensive-care unit.

“She’s unresponsive, but she is breathing on her own — finally,” Kile said. “She was on life support the first three or four days in ICU.”

Doctors in the infectious disease department at St. Louis Children’s Hospital were not available for comment, said spokeswoman Kendra Whittle.

Layla got a flu shot this winter, Kile said.

On March 22, friends started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign called “Prayers for Layla” to help the family with expenses not covered by health insurance.

“(Layla’s) parents, grandparents, family and friends have been by her side 24/7,” the campaign story reads.

The campaign’s goal started at $5,000. It was increased this week to $10,000. By Friday afternoon, people had contributed more than $4,600.

“Please continue to pray, send good vibes and positive thoughts for Layla Lynn,” the story reads.

Hospital bed.jpeg
Two-year-old Layla Thomas is unresponsive at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She has been diagnosed with necrotic encephalitis (inflammation of brain). Provided

On the morning of March 18, Aubuschon took Layla to a pediatrician with Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation in Swansea, but Layla had only a low-grade fever, slight runny nose and mild cough, so the staff recommended over-the-counter medications, Kile said.

Later that day, Aubuschon reportedly checked on Layla during her nap, found her unresponsive and called an ambulance that took her to Memorial Hospital in Belleville. Layla’s temperature had jumped to 107 degrees.

“She had multiple seizures on the way (to St. Louis Children’s Hospital),” Kile said. “It was just terrifying.”

The National Institutes of Health web page on necrotizing encephalopathy notes that the rare disease is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. It usually develops secondary to viral infections, the most common being influenza A and B and human herpes virus 6.

The St. Louis Children’s Hospital staff consulted doctors as far away as Australia when determining how to treat Layla, Kile said.

“Most of the reported cases are from previously healthy Japanese and Taiwanese children, but it is now known that the disease may affect anybody in the world,” according to the NIH web page.

Grocery cart.jpeg
Two-year-old Layla Thomas hugs her 8-month-old sister, Adilynn Thomas, in a grocery cart. They are the daughters of Victoria Aubuschon and C.J. Thomas, of Belleville. Provided

Name above door.jpg
Nurses caring for 2-year-old Layla Thomas, of Belleville, put her name and doggie images above her door at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she’s been since March 18. Provided