Mere days after falling off his bike, an 8-year-old died from a severely infected cut on his leg that was caused by a rare “flesh-eating” bacteria.
People reported that Sara Hebard’s son Liam was riding his bike in the driveway of the family's home in Oregon, U.S. on January 13, which has done numerous times. As he was going downhill, however, he crashed and landed on dirt. The bike’s handlebars slashed through Liam’s pants and caused a deep cut on his thigh. He was immediately rushed to the hospital where his wound needed seven stitches. He was sent home and was expected to make a full recovery.
But in the next three days after his trip to the ER, Liam did not stop complaining of pain in his thigh and groin, according to his parents. When his mom and stepfather, Scott Hinkle, inspected his wound they were shocked.
“It was purplish-red and gangrenous looking,” Hinkle told the Associated Press. The Hinkles initially suspected gangrene, which causes skin discoloration, swelling, severe pain, and a foul-smelling discharge due to the death of body tissue. A serious bacterial infection could cause gangrene.
The 8-year-old was immediately taken to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to remove the infection. After, he was airlifted to another hospital where he would undergo several amputations.
“Each time they did a surgery, they kept telling us that they thought they got it,” Hebard told People. “He was on three of the highest doses of antibiotics that you could get. They were pouring everything at them that they could, but they just kept cutting and hoping. Cutting and hoping.”
Doctors diagnosed Liam had necrotizing fasciitis, a rare disease caused by “flesh-eating” bacteria that could have been in the soil where he crashed his bike. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “necrotizing fasciitis is a serious bacterial skin infection that spreads quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue.”
Liam’s infection spread from his thigh to his ankle and armpit. Hebard shared that almost the entirety of Liam’s right side had been amputated and the pain her son felt was so unbearable that he had to be sedated. Liam was transferred to another hospital on January 21 where he died on the same day.
Necrotizing fasciitis can quickly turn fatal, which is why early diagnosis and treatment is crucial, said the CDC. According to the UK’s National Health Service, “Even with treatment, it's estimated that 1 or 2 in every 5 cases are fatal.”
The condition is caused by several types of bacterium which are typically harmless but can be lethal when it gets into deep tissue through cuts, puncture wounds, or even insect bites said the NHS.
Symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis, which can develop in just a few hours, include soreness and intense pain around the infected area, skin that's warm, discolored, or swollen, fever, chills, fatigue, and vomiting. CDC cautioned that the pain can be much more intense than how severe the wound looks, which could delay a patient from seeking medical attention. If you suspect you or your child has the condition, do not hesitate to consult a doctor.
A strong immune system, good hygiene, and proper wound care greatly lower the chances of contracting the disease, said the CDC.
Always clean a wound by washing the area with running water and soap, said pediatrician Dr. Empress Carlos. “Cleaning and washing a wound will give you an idea of how deep or severe the condition. Even if the wound is very deep, you should wash it to remove any foreign or contaminated objects that might have gotten inside the wound,” she said.
Consider how your child got the wound as well. An animal scratch, a wound contaminated with dirt or feces, or caused by a puncture from a nail or needle can cause tetanus. Your child will need to go to the hospital for shots.
A wound that has been stitched should be observed for signs of an infection and to see if the stitches remain intact and are keeping the wound edges together, said the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Then, return for follow-up care as advised by a doctor.