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DE SOTO, Mo. – The family of Derek Mullins calls the 17-year-old a fighter and a go-getter. The De Soto teen who is in the hospital with COVID is now out of the ICU and off a breathing tube.

Derek has undergone multiple surgeries in his young life and lives with cerebral palsy. Derek went into the hospital in late November and was put on a breathing tube at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. His father was by his side. Derek developed pneumonia after testing positive for COVID.

What made matters even more challenging was Derek’s father, Gary Mullins, also tested positive for COVID. He and his wife had to quarantine. They were unable to enter the hospital for several days.

“It was one of the hardest things we went through,” said Mullins.

He wants everyone to know what COVID can lead to and hopes everyone will take precautions to stop the spread of the virus. Mullins said what started out as a cough quickly turned into pneumonia.

“We just want people to understand that it is real and it’s out there,” he said.

Mullins said he’s grateful for the care his son is receiving at the hospital. He said he and his wife have cried over the support they’ve received from the De Soto community. Friends organized a GoFundMe page. Mullins said it’s not clear where his son contracted the virus but said he took precautions when he went out in public.

“The public really needs to understand it could affect anyone,” he said.

Dr. Rachel Charney, a professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University and the medical director for disaster preparedness at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, said, in general, children have not gotten as sick as adults from COVID.

Hospitalization rates for children have been lower than adults. She said that does not mean they should not take precautions.

“We’re in a pandemic and stopping every single case of COVID that we can is essential right now,” she said.

Charney said symptoms in adults and children are similar.

“Shortness of breath, coughing, that loss of taste and smell is also a classic thing we can see in children as well, although other children may just have a runny nose or headaches or a fever,” she said.

Mullins is asking for prayers and hopes everyone will take precautions to stop the spread of COVID.

“It’s real,” he said.