Toddler's mom speaks out after daughter diagnosed with deadly tick-borne illness

Deadly tick bite
Rocky Mountain spotted fever death

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Lab tests confirm that a Plainfield toddler who died this week tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after getting infected from a tick bite.

The mother of two year-old Kenley Ratliff is now sharing not only her grief, but also a hope, to make other families aware of this rare, yet very real danger.

"Her grace and her presence here on earth, she touched so many people," said Kenley's mom, Kayla Conn. "She lit up everyone's room, just with her personality. She was the sweetest baby ever

Conn is still struggling with how suddenly her daughter went from perfectly healthy to dangerously sick.

"I wake up every day hoping it's a dream and I just hold onto her blanket," Conn said. "We were not expecting to leave the hospital without our baby."

Lab tests now confirm that two-year-old Kenley Ratliff tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a disease caused by a tick bite.

It's a rare, but real danger - more common in southern states, but also a risk in Indiana.

Like many Hoosiers, Kenley's family weren't aware of it.

"We've never heard of it. Ever," Conn said.

She says Kenley developed symptoms ten days after going camping: first a fever that wouldn't break, then a rash.

Mom says her toddler kept getting worse even after two trips to two different emergency rooms.

"It started out with a fever and I gave her Tylenol pain and fever reducer and instead of her temperature going down, it went up. That's when I took her to the ER. They sent us home with antibiotics and then five days later, she still had her fever and everything and it never went down," Conn explained. "We went to another ER. They said that she had strep and scarlet fever and they sent us home with another antibiotic and then the next day she just wasn't the same."

That's when they went to Riley Children's Hospital at IU Health and doctors there suspected a tick-borne illness.

Dr. Chandy John, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Riley, says Kenley, after just a few days, was in the advanced stages of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

"I did immediately suspect it because that and some lab values that she had and some other things on her exam put it together, it was a fairly classic case but we haven't seen that much in Indiana, so I think it was tough to suspect earlier on," Dr. John said. "As soon as we saw her, we put her on doxycycline. But the longer you wait, the less likely patients are to respond to treatment so it's tough to know if treatment made a difference at all in this case because she had come in a pretty advanced state of disease."

"It takes one antibiotic to cure it and by that time, it was too late," Conn said.

Kenley died on Sunday.

Even in her grief, her mom is now trying to make other families aware of tick dangers.

Her story, after being shared by family friends on Eyewitness News, is now being shared nationwide on social media and on the national media.

"We are sharing our story with as many people as we can to make this known," Conn said, "because we would never want anyone else to go through what we're going through and if it's something that they can catch early on, that's another life saved. Someone contacted me on Facebook and she already saved at least one life that we know of because they knew what to look out for."

It's a mission she never wanted, but one that's now motivated by her angel.

"This is her purpose," Conn said. "She is our hero."

The family is planning a Celebration of Life for Kenley on Saturday from 3-8pm at Hazelwood Christian Church in Clayton.

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