'Her heart was so, so big': 7-year-old Knoxville girl dies of COVID-19 complications

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Adalyn Rita Graviss, a 7-year-old from Knoxville, died Monday after developing a severe neurological response to COVID-19. She is pictured here with her newborn baby sister.
Adalyn Rita Graviss, a 7-year-old from Knoxville, died Monday after developing a severe neurological response to COVID-19. She is pictured here with her newborn baby sister.

A young Knox County Schools student has died of complications from COVID-19.

Adalyn Rita Graviss, 7, died Monday night after developing a severe neurological response to COVID-19, her mother, Jennifer Kowalski-Graviss, told Knox News.

Adalyn, a second grader at Rocky Hill Elementary School, suffered from Raynaud's syndrome and her mother said doctors think COVID-19 triggered an auto-immune disorder in the child.

"She was just the best kid in the whole wide world," Jennifer Kowalski-Graviss said. "Her heart was so, so big. But it just wasn't strong enough."

Adalyn had a low-grade fever Friday and then went downhill "all of a sudden," Kowalski-Graves said. "It was within hours. Her body just couldn't fight it."

She was admitted to East Tennessee Children's Hospital on Saturday night and then was transferred to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville on Monday, Kowalski-Graviss said.

Adalyn "had thousands and thousands of people praying for her," she said. "The whole school held prayer groups. It was so amazing. She was so loved. She lighted up everyone's life."

Adalyn Rita Graviss, 7, died Monday, February 7, 2022 after developing a severe neurological response to COVID-19.
Adalyn Rita Graviss, 7, died Monday, February 7, 2022 after developing a severe neurological response to COVID-19.

Described as a "mother hen" to all the children in the neighborhood, Adalyn had prayed for a little sister every single night for four years, her mother said.

Her "biggest dream came true" Jan. 28, when baby sister Ella was born, said Holly Pace, who had been Adalyn's kindergarten teacher at Rocky Hill. "She talked about it nonstop. She was so proud."

Adalyn only got to spend a few days with Ella before she got sick and had to isolate, Kowalski-Graviss said.

Neighbor Deanna Ford said Adalyn was sick with a fever but was in good spirits.

"She was really fine until suddenly she wasn't," Ford said. "It's really unbelievable."

Within hours of being admitted to the hospital, Adalyn was intubated, her mother said.

"They think her body was attacked," Kowalski-Graviss said, adding a neurologist said Adalyn developed acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM.

Known to occur more often in children, ADEM is a rare disorder that follows infections and can trigger widespread inflammation of brain and spinal cord tissues. Though the exact cause is unknown, but in severe cases, the nerve damage caused by inflammation can lead to long-term disability and death.

It is known to occur more commonly in upper respiratory infections, like those that can occur with the omicron variant. Dozens of instances have been reported worldwide following COVID-19 infection.

“We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of one of our students," Rocky Hill Principal Tina Holt said Tuesday in a message shared with the school's parents. "Our thoughts are with all those who are grieving, especially the Graviss family.”

Counselors are available to support students and staff during this difficult time, Holt said.

Adalyn's death will leave a big hole in her school and her community, said Pace.

"She was wise beyond her years," Pace said. "Every kiddo (in the school) gravitated to her. She was just gentle, and had a light about her."

A fundraiser on GoFundMe established by Pace, the Adalyn Graviss Memorial Fund, already has exceeded its $15,000 goal. A Meal Train already has food organized for the family through the first week of March.

The outpouring of support has been incredible, Kowalski-Graviss said.

Adalyn "touched so many lives," she said. "She was the most amazing girl with the biggest heart. That kid deserved the world."

The Knox County Health Department said Tuesday this is the first pediatric death in Knox County related to COVID-19.

Reporters Vincent Gabrielle and Becca Wright contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: 7-year-old Knoxville student dies of COVID-19 complications