On July 27, 11-year-old Driason Cajuste went with his father for a short, one-mile run.
He was a healthy kid, his doctor said.
A month earlier, his pediatrician had signed off on a well-child checkup for the rising sixth-grader at Dalton Middle School, assuring his mother, Dalton resident Kamilah Blalock, there was nothing to worry about.
The family thought nothing of sending him on the short run — but there were problems. Driason started the run dehydrated after failing to drink fluids before he went, and he was running in the hot, humid climate of Florida while visiting from Dalton.
Hours later, he was in Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami, suffering the effects of a heat stroke doctors said nearly destroyed his kidneys and liver and could have cost him his life. His temperature rose to 107.4 degrees, he became lethargic and fell into a coma, and doctors wrung their hands over whether to operate for organ replacement on a child whose blood would not clot or continue waiting to see if he would heal on his own.
“This is how quick it can happen, just in the blink of an eye,” said Blalock. “A lot of times we think kids, they can endure anything, heat strokes only happen to older people. People need to be informed that is not the truth.”
Blalock said her son played outside and was active, but was not especially fit or athletic. He ran in the morning the day he became sick, but the humidity was so high his body couldn’t handle it, she said.
Scheduled to come back home this weekend after spending four weeks in the hospital, he’s now the one family members said doctors began calling “the miracle kid.”
Driason’s liver was damaged enough from the heat stroke that only 2 percent of it was functioning at one point, Blalock said. Doctors wanted to give him a transplant, but complications from the heat stroke meant he would likely bleed out on the operating table. So they waited.
Then, for no apparent reason, Driason began to get better. He shook his head when his parents talked to him. The family played music, and he responded to that. Doctors learned his organs had began to rejuvenate themselves. Suddenly, the boy who had been nearly at death’s door was making a turnaround.
“What I believe helped, I believe it was prayer,” Blalock said. “The doctor said, ‘You have no choice but to believe in a higher power because of what happened here.’”
Driason’s aunt, Leah Norton of Dalton, said her nephew was scheduled to come home by this weekend but would still be in outpatient therapy in Emory Hospital in Atlanta. Because of muscle damage during the heat stroke, he had to learn to walk again, and there are other complications too.
“He has diabetes now, and will be on insulin for the rest of his life,” she said, “but he is alive and on the road to recovery.”
The family has dedicated a website, www.driasonscare.org, to educating the public about the detrimental effects of heat stroke and how to prevent it.
Stephanie Rynas, a certified athletic trainer at Hamilton Sports Medicine, said young athletes and others who exercise after coming back from summer break can be subject to heat illnesses if they practice during peak temperatures or while unconditioned.
It takes about two weeks for the body to become acclimated to heat.
“There are many factors that determine how susceptible a person is to dehydration, but no matter how susceptible you may be, you should always watch for the symptoms and act appropriately,” Rynas said.
Driasons story online
Risk factors for heat illness
• History of illness
• Inadequate heat acclimatization
• Low fitness level
• Salt deficiency
• Use of medicines like antihistamine, diuretics or dietary supplements
• High humidity
• Sun exposure time
• Minimal fluids before and during activity
• Minimal breaks
Source: Stephanie Rynas, Hamilton Sports Medicine
• Drink 20 ounces of fluid two hours before exercise.
• Weigh yourself before and after workouts. Ingest 150 percent of body weight loss post-exercise.
• Ingest six to 10 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes of exercise.
• Check urine color before and after exercise.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
• Take 10 to 14 days to adapt to the heat.
• Get six to eight hours of sleep at night.
• Avoid the warmest/most humid parts of the day.
• Minimize clothing/equipment according to heat.
• Use shade when possible.
• Know the signs/symptoms of heat illness and seek medical attention.
Source: National Athletic Trainers Association
“Dehydration is defined as a loss of 2 percent or more of body weight. Symptoms include: Dry mouth, thirst, headache, weakness, dizziness, cramps, chills, vomiting and fatigue.” — Stephanie Rynas, Hamilton Sports Medicine