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How doctors saved 12-year-old girl from flesh-eating bacterial infection

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Kylei Parker was a healthy, active 12-year-old girl, but all it took was a trip to the beach for her life to be in jeopardy.

“This disease is very overwhelming and very rapidly progressive and can develop in any patient population, whether they are previously healthy or not,” said Dr. Kamal Abulebda, a Pediatric Intensivist at Riley Children’s Hospital.

Kylei had a cut on her toe from a skateboarding accident before her trip to Destin, Florida. After a dip in the ocean, she felt pressure in her leg.

By the time she got back to Indiana, her leg was swollen and her body was in septic shock. According to doctors, that’s a deadly combination with a grim outlook.

“In the pediatric population, when you come in with septic shock, low blood pressure, and you have necrotizing fasciitis… her mortality risk is way, way higher.” Dr. Abulebda told WXIN.

At the Riley emergency room, doctors realized Kylei had a rare infection called necrotizing fasciitis. One in three people who get the infection will die from it. Kylei was quickly taken into emergency surgery.

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“A lot of the infections, we can treat in the ICU with just antibiotics and supportive care, but there are certain infections like necrotizing fasciitis that doesn’t give you much time to treat, it doesn’t give you much time to think,” said. Dr. Abulebda. “You have to be very prompt and very urgent in the way you recognize it, order the proper test, talk to the appropriate consultation service and surgery service to address the problem before it becomes irreversible.”

Through emergency surgery, doctors were able to remove the infection and save Kylei’s leg.

“I think she’s very lucky, actually,” Dr. Abulebda said. “A lot of the times, what we’ve seen before when we have this kind of infection, necrotizing fasciitis, we are not able to save the extremities because they are already dead, and there’s nothing you can save.”

Dr. Abulebda doesn’t see this infection often.. In some cases, he’s seen patients die from it. He says Kylei and her mother made the right choice by visiting the doctor when they did.

“If this had gone unrecognized overnight or for another day or two, there’s probably a high chance we would not be able to save her extremities or another negative outcome would have happened,” Dr. Abulebda said.

Thanks to quick action,  Kylie is starting to walk. With physical therapy, she hopes to return to her softball team.

For now, Kylie and her mother are hoping to spread awareness so that others know the signs of this rare infection and know when to seek medical help.

“If it wasn’t for the quick responses and aggressive treatments, I wouldn’t have her,” Kylei’s mother, Michelle Brown, said while holding back tears. “I was a person who had no idea of this, and I had to learn very quickly.”

This infection is rare, but it can happen to anyone. It usually enters the body through an open cut or wound. In Kylei’s case, she had scraped her toe. It’s important to always keep cuts or scrapes clean and covered with a bandage.

The CDC has more information on necrotizing fasciitis.

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