Girl, 9, Thinks Shirt Tag Pinched Her. Then Mom Discovers Brown Recluse Spider Bite That Quickly Spread

Jessica Calvillo struggled to find answers for her 9-year-old daughter amid a painful ordeal

<p>Jessica Calvillo</p> Adalynn

Jessica Calvillo

Adalynn's bite progression

A mom learned never to ignore a situation when it comes to her child's care.

Jessica Calvillo was going through a morning like any other with daughter Adalynn McDowell, 9, when her child complained of a pinch while getting changed.

"Around 7 a.m., she was removing her nightgown and felt a little poke in her arm, near her armpit area. She said she wanted to donate the nightgowns because it had a tag in it that was poking her," she tells PEOPLE.

The two went about their morning and Jessica dropped Adalynn off at school. "She was perfectly fine, happy and healthy. And then, at about noon, her symptoms started."

Jessica learned Adalynn was experiencing "extreme pain in her arm."

"She said it felt like lightning shot in her armpit and then she had fever chills. Her skin was pale and clammy and her lips were purple and she was just shivering. She couldn't stop shaking and she was kind of hunched over," the mom recalls.

Jessica took Adalynn to the emergency room but quickly found she wasn't satisfied by their experience there.

"I explained to them all of her symptoms and what had happened and that I suspected the poke on her arm was actually a spider bite because the brown recluse spider is very common in the area we live in."

"I had explained that to the nurse practitioners who barely glanced at my daughter's arm before saying, 'Oh no, that's not a bite, it's just a pinch.' "

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The nurse then attributed the 9-year-old's fever to a virus or COVID, but the mom objected.

"My sister came up there and my sister and I both insisted to the practitioner several times that it was not a pinch. We waited and when she came back in to discharge us, she told us that most of her swab results came back but one and there was no need for us to wait," Jessica says.

"She took one more look at my daughter's arm and said, 'It does look a little red, so to make you feel better, I'll send in antibiotics.' "

Jessica made plans to take her daughter elsewhere, still concerned about the spot on her arm

"She didn't give me any information on what to look out for or how to handle it. It made me feel like our fears, in her opinion, didn't matter. I already knew I was going to another emergency room."

Sadly, the next emergency room didn't go much better, with Jessica noting she felt "let down and disappointed" after being told, once again, her child was fine.

"It kind of broke my heart because I'm a mom who is scared for my child. I wanted somebody to help me and I felt like nobody cared enough to help me. And my daughter, my 9-year-old daughter, was realizing that as well, and it just kind of broke my heart."

After insisting on information about what signs to look out for in case it was something more serious, the mom and daughter left the hospital. In a matter of hours, Adalynn's symptoms worsened.

"It was about 5:00 a.m. the next morning, less than 12 hours later ... I knew things were severe. She got absolutely no sleep at all. I tried alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen. I even gave her melatonin to try to help her sleep. Nothing helped."

When Adalynn went to the bathroom, she discovered a "terrifying" amount of blood. "She laid in bed, trying to sleep and would roll over and tell me how much pain she was in," Jessica recalls. "She was definitely experiencing the pain fully, she knew that something was off."

Within an hour of returning to the hospital, doctors were able to confirm that Adalynn had been bitten by a brown recluse.

"They told us she needed to be transferred to a children's hospital for further observation," Jessica, a mom of four, shares. "They had to transfer her two hours away."

<p>Jessica Calvillo</p> Adalynn smiling in hospital

Jessica Calvillo

Adalynn smiling in hospital

Jessica credits her village for making it possible to get through that terrifying time. "When they say that it takes a village, it really does. My daughter's father and I are not together. We're both remarried but we work really well together [as co-parents]. His wife helped so much with taking care of my other son who lives with us. It was a whole lot of family jumping in to make extra trips and to take off work to watch the other children. It really took the whole family to work together to make it where it was possible for me to be there with Adalynn every single minute while she was there."

Jessica credits doctors at the children's hospital for keeping their explanations simple, but thorough so that both she and Adalynn felt comfortable with everything going on.

"They waited until she was asleep to discuss certain things when they didn't want to scare her," she says. "It was all a reaction to the bite, a reaction that less than 1 percent of people that have a brown recluse bite experience, the majority of them being children."

Adalynn ended up being in the hospital for six days, with care from a number of different medical professionals.

"She had a general surgeon and an infectious disease doctor. She was under the care of a plastic surgeon, hematology, orthopedic surgery and nephrology, and she had to have a blood transfusion because of humanistic anemia, which caused a complete breakdown of all her red blood cells."

The road to recovery also included three days in a "Texas sling," with her arm braced over hear head about the concern for her extremities due to lack of blood circulation.

"Her hand was basically resting in a tube above her head, and she was on that for three days and that helped with the swelling and kind of moving the swelling from her hand, down the rest of her body."

"They were concerned with her kidneys shutting down and that was, I think, one of the main concerns, especially after she was released from the hospital. So, she had several doctor appointments and had to go several times to have blood drawn to check her kidney function. It was the one thing we struggled with the most, even after we were discharged."

<p>Jessica Calvillo</p> Adalynn at softball

Jessica Calvillo

Adalynn at softball

Though she missed some fun times, like her softball season and her last month of school, Adalynn kept her spirits relatively high.

"She was scared but we tried our hardest to keep her from understanding how bad it was or how bad it could have been," the mom says. "I think with the type of person she is, she could realize we were all so scared that she was trying to be brave for us. Even through all her pain and drowsiness from the medication, she'd give us smiles. I knew the smiles were for me. They weren't necessarily her happy smiles but more of a reassuring, 'it's going to be okay,' thing."

<p>Jessica Calvillo</p> Adalynn's brown recluse bite healing

Jessica Calvillo

Adalynn's brown recluse bite healing

For Jessica, making it through that time was a little bit tougher.

"It was extremely difficult. Everybody says that going through anything with your child and that fear of losing your child is the worst thing a parent can experience, and it's absolutely true. There was a point where I was so scared that in my head, I literally felt like I wasn't mentally strong enough to make it through," she says.

Thankfully, her support system stepped in to help her forge ahead. "What gave me the strength to kind of get through this and be that strong person from my daughter was prayer."

Jessica decided to share their story, which in total was a 76-day ordeal for Adalynn, on TikTok in hopes of empowering another parent who might find themselves in a similar situation.

"I wanted people to know this information. It was 76 days later, when they told us, 'You're done with bandage changes. You don't need any surgery. You don't need to come back.' And once we could breathe, I felt we needed to help other people understand the extent that one of these spider bites can lead to."

She also hopes that doctors will realize, "It's not always one size fits all when it comes to medical situations, and if a parent is extremely scared and they have these fears and concerns, you can do something to make them feel better, even if it seems to you like it's not needed."

<p>Jessica Calvillo</p> Adalynn with her siblings

Jessica Calvillo

Adalynn with her siblings

Now that it's fall, Adalynn has accepted, "This is a story, an experience, but it's not who you are anymore or what you're going through anymore.'"

"From that point, she was just like, 'I can do all these things I wanted to do still.' So it was really happy day for her," she says. "She has a pretty big scar on her arm but that's okay. She knows that it comes with an insane story and it shows that she's a fighter."

"She was selected for the softball all-star team. She's back to being a happy, healthy girl who takes care of her younger siblings and is such a blessing to all of us."

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