RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Katie Halterman said she knew something was off when her two-year-old son, Brandon, started breathing irregularly last month.

Halterman told 8News Brandon’s symptoms became worse — with flaring nostrils and wheezing — after a trip to their pediatrician. As Brandon’s oxygen levels dropped, Halterman rushed him to Augusta Health where he was diagnosed with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two — however, RSV can sometimes be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

Brandon was an example of a serious case.

Halterman said the family had traveled from Augusta County to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond in search of an open bed and ventilator. But doctors said they were at capacity.

Eventually, the family was transferred to Norfolk where Brandon spent 14 days breathing through a ventilator.

“They were the longest 14 days of my life,” Halterman said. “I honestly thought I was going to lose my son. We got transferred from one hospital to another and it just seemed like the longest weeks of my life.” 

Dr. Clifton Lee, a specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, said that, unfortunately, Brandon’s story is not uncommon as hospitals become overwhelmed by patients with RSV and other respiratory illness cases.

“It’s been unusual to say the very least,” Lee said. “Bed capacity is at an all-time high across the region. I feel for the family that had to go to Norfolk, but it is not an unusual scenario at this time” 

According to Lee, VCU’s Children’s Hospital is operating at 90-95% capacity, which he calls “exceedingly high.”

In addition, RSV season typically runs from November through April, so hospitals are potentially in the early stages of what could be a very long season.

“It is always concerning when the numbers are so high in the beginning,” Lee said. “We will need to do our best to care for the children as they come into the hospital.”

In the meantime, doctors are urging the public to take preventative steps to avoid RSV, the flu, and COVID-19.

In order to protect yourself and others, experts suggest:

  • Geting your flu and COVID-19 vaccines
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Cleaning frequently touched areas
  • Avoiding crowded areas
  • Wearing a mask