Unraveling the Complexities of COVID-19

Little boy smiles.

Even during a growing pandemic, our work to improve outcomes for kids like Caleb doesn’t stop.

Discovery Cannot Wait

Michelle watches Caleb hop and skip down the cobblestone path, his bright smile stretching even wider. The happy expression on her 6-year-old son’s face perfectly matches her own.

They pose together for family photos in a historic Covington, KY, park. Wyatt, Caleb’s dad, is there, and so is his big sister Leah. They’re accompanied by a spry photographer donning a bright yellow fabric mask. 

Just four months after his kidney transplant, playing outside is a seemingly simple activity his mom doesn’t dare take for granted.

“We knew Caleb would have to be a fighter,” Michelle says. “Fortunately, his care team really helped us prepare for the roller coaster ride ahead.” 

Born six weeks too early, Caleb entered the world with a host of health challenges, including chronic kidney disease and Eagle-Barrett syndrome, a rare disorder that affects his urinary tract and lungs. 

“Because of his condition, he’s more likely to catch any virus going around,” Michelle adds. “Right now is a scary time for families with immunocompromised kids.” 

Every day, kids like Caleb fuel our drive to discover treatments and cures for those battling complex diseases. As a national leader in scientific discovery and innovation, we believe it’s our responsibility to protect the health of those who need us. 

And during these challenging times, our dedication to research in all areas of childhood illness continues. Only now we’ve added an additional challenge: the development of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Driven to Cure Disease 

Ranked among the top three pediatric hospitals in the nation, we’re known for our groundbreaking discoveries in the area of vaccine development. 

In fact, we were one of the first four hospitals in the nation leading a COVID-19 vaccine trial.  

From our life-saving development of the oral polio and rotavirus vaccines to our current work on a universal flu vaccine, we’ve played a key role in fighting infectious diseases for more than 80 years.

And our work to push the boundaries of discovery goes beyond life-saving vaccinations.

In 1951, our experts developed the world’s first functional heart-lung machine, an innovation that has saved countless lives around the world by making open heart surgery safer and more effective. Another transformational discovery was the identification and cloning of lung surfactant proteins—research that eventually transformed care for premature infants, which saves an estimated 2,000 lives a year in the United States alone and many more worldwide.

Today, we continue building upon a strong foundation of research and innovation, and our commitment to advance care on a global scale extends to new targeted therapies for cancer, effective treatments for mental health disorders and more.

But our work won’t stop until every child is healthy. And with several COVID-related research projects underway, support from charitable partners is needed now more than ever.

Philanthropy in Action

For many families, supporting research means hope that their child will have a healthier future.

Ward and Robyn Sexton are a prime example. They travel here from Chicago once a month so their son Gavin can receive the best possible care for his kidney disease. Inspired by the positive experience they’ve had with their care team, the Sextons support vital research initiatives related to their son’s condition.

“There are always more questions than funding available to help researchers find answers,” Ward says. “Research is critical to improving medical outcomes. The experts here are an incredible resource, and we want to help move the ball forward however we can.”

When COVID-19 hit, Robyn and Ward wondered what they could do to help. That’s when they learned about one of our early research initiatives led by Stefanie Benoit, MD, clinical director of our Nephrology Clinical Laboratory.

In a collaborative effort spanning multiple institutions, Benoit is joined by Brandon Michael Henry, MD, a research fellow in our Heart Institute, and her husband, Justin Benoit, MD, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

They’re working together to understand why some with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms while other cases are fatal.

“In our recently published findings, we’ve explored how the virus interacts with the body’s primary hormonal system for regulating fluids, electrolytes and blood pressure, as well as how it induces the formation of blood clots,” says Henry. “Our research is helping us unravel the complexity of COVID-19 to enable targeted therapies.”

“In addition, our lab was part of a multidivisional effort to develop antibody testing and make it available to the community at large,” Dr. Stefanie Benoit says. “All of this work is aimed at understanding COVID-19 and facilitating public health efforts on a global scale.”

Our culture of collaboration is the key to improving health outcomes. And donors make all the difference. 

“The gift from the Sextons enabled us to start doing the research immediately,” Justin Benoit shares. “Donors truly make an impact here, and I hope others follow their lead.”

One Child at a Time

Whether our partners invest in our response to a global health crisis or support the area of the hospital that means the most to them, generous donors like the Sextons are making progress possible—one discovery, one breakthrough, one child at a time.

It’s this kind of innovative progress that gives kids like Caleb a second chance at life.

“Because of Caleb’s condition, getting sick badly affects his ability to breathe,” Michelle says. “When he was too young to talk, I put my hand on his chest and felt his little ribcage moving up and down too fast while his nostrils flared.”

Since birth, Caleb has been in and out of the hospital several times due to viral infections. During two of those stays, he needed a ventilator to help his body get enough oxygen.

Certain infections still pose a serious threat now that he’s post-transplant. But today, Caleb has a lot to celebrate—thanks, in part, to those who support pioneering research and world-class care.

For the first time ever, he can swim in the pool in his backyard now that he’s out of dialysis and no longer has a catheter that can’t get wet. He’s also spending more time with his big sister and less time at the hospital. 

With her voice full of hope, Michelle says, “Thanks to the care he’s received here, we’re looking forward to his future.”

For more information or to make a gift, please contact Lauren Bosse at or 513-803-0639.

Caleb and family.

Caleb and his family.

The RACE to Contain an Outbreak

Our Rapid Adaptive Control of an Epidemic (RACE) team is playing a leading role in supporting the community and regional response to COVID-19. By utilizing multisite, multidisciplinary teams of clinicians, staff, scientists and communities, our networks are collecting data to advance care, research and, ultimately, cures. 

This important work is tied not only to how the disease impacts vulnerable populations, but also our longtime commitment to health disparities research and the social determinants of health. Here’s a look at some of the projects we’ve launched so far:

  • Participation in an international clinical trial for a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
  • Development of an artificial intelligence tool that uses natural language processing and machine learning to extract risk factor information to support early detection of infection.
  • The impact of telehealth on foster children and how the pandemic has disrupted behavioral healthcare visits among foster families.
  • Research on how the novel coronavirus affects individuals with sickle cell disease.
  • A study on how the virus interacts with heart tissue at the molecular level to help researchers develop tests and treatments for potential heart complications caused by COVID-19.
  • Analysis of how quarantine restrictions and changes due to the pandemic affect the teenage population.

The learnings collected by our RACE team will provide a model for our state of a nimble, strategic response to control the COVID-19 pandemic. By working together, our research initiatives are poised to make a tremendous impact on a regional, national and even global level.