In February, 9-year-old Fernando Hernandez was diagnosed with hantavirus, an infectious disease that’s normally spread through contact with rodents such as deer mice, cotton rats, rice rats and the white-footed mouse. People typically contract the virus when they are bitten or come into contact with fresh droppings of an infected rodent, and they can soon experience coughing and shortness of breath as the infection causes fluid to build up in the lungs.
Since his diagnosis, Fernando has undergone “various surgeries” and “heart failures,” the donation page states.
“I can tell you the last few weeks weren’t all that great for him… he was in constant pain but was holding on,” his family wrote on GoFundMe “I can also tell [you] even though he was in a bad spot, he WASN’T scared of one day going with god.”
According to the Farmington Daily Times, Fernando had been at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio when he experienced a brain hemorrhage on October 26. He was placed on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which supports patients with failing hearts and lungs by pumping oxygen throughout the body. But the incident left him brain dead, and the family then made the heartbreaking decision to take him off the machine.
“We really thought he was going to make it,” Fernando’s father, George Hernandez, told the Daily Times.
The family’s GoFundMe, which was set up to raise funds for Fernando’s funeral expenses, has raised more than $3,600 from 75 donors.
The transmission of hantavirus to humans is extremely rare, with only 728 reported cases in the United States as of January 2017. But the virus can be fatal and has a mortality rate of 38 percent.
Symptoms of the hantavirus are similar to the flu, and include fever, exhaustion, muscle aches and nausea. Families should take precaution if they have been around areas where rodents may live.
Around the time of Fernando’s diagnosis, 27-year-old Kiley Lane of Farmington, New Mexico, also contracted hantavirus. Her mother, Julie Barron, spoke out about her daughter’s story to help raise awareness about the rare disease.
“Kiley’s story may be unique, and who knows why she or how she contracted it,” Barron told PEOPLE in February. “But the important thing is people do need to know— if they think they’ve been exposed — to ask to be tested, because the doctors probably aren’t going to think of the virus just off the bat.”