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'He was just hot': Parents warn others after teen son with autism dies on hot day

WISN Milwaukee logo WISN Milwaukee 7/19/2018
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A Kansas mother is desperate to warn other parents about the dangers of heat exhaustion after her teenage son died. 

“I remember looking at the nurse saying, 'Why?' He was just hot. He was just hot,’” Rachel Mikel told WDAF.

For Elijah Mikel, an 18-year-old with autism, the extreme heat in Lawrence proved deadly. Rachel still has trouble grasping that her son is gone.

“The silence is deafening,” she said.

Elijah was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of two. While he couldn't speak, family members say he brought joy to everyone around him.

“His autism did not define him. He just really put everything into perspective for us and what's important in life,” Rachel Mikel said.

Last week, Elijah took a walk with his caregiver to the nature trails along Clinton Lake. Temperatures were around 102. Though they had made the trip many times before, the caregiver began to get worried.

“She called me and said 'something’s not right. He sat down and won’t get back up,'” Rachel Mikel recalled.

Hoping it was just a bout of stubbornness, Rachel rushed to the park to check on him.

“By the time I got there, and saw him, I knew something was wrong,” she said.

By the time medics arrived, Elijah's temperature was 108 and he was suffering from heat exhaustion. EMTs tried to cool him down as they rushed to the hospital.

“Things looked like they were improving,” Rachel Mikel said.

However, his temperature didn't drop enough. Doctors say heat exhaustion rapidly wears out muscles, including the heart.

“Being outside in the heat on days like this, it really is hard on the body. No matter what age you are, you can get overheated very quickly and the move from heat exhaustion to heat stroke can happen a whole lot faster than many people appreciate,” Dr. Steve Lauer, University of Kansas Health System associate chair of pediatrics, said.

Rachel warns those who consider high temperatures just another part of life.

“We're used to that in Kansas. That's just part of living here. OK, there's a heat advisory, I’ll run the air conditioner,” she said.

The Mikel family is sharing their story in hopes it might save someone else's life.

“Drink water. Take a break. Go inside. This is not a joke. It's not something that happens to other people. This is real. He was 18 and fairly healthy. So just be cautious,” Rachel said.

Doctors say critical signs of heat illness include excessive sweating and abnormal behaviors or tiredness.

READ MORE:'He was just hot': Parents warn others after teen son with autism dies on hot day

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