An Indiana family is speaking out to raise awareness after their 4-year-old son developed a rare infection that led to the amputation of his right leg.
The boy’s parents, Megan and Ben Crenshaw, said they thought their youngest son Bryson had just had the flu when he first developed a fever in early January.
The couple said they initially treated Bryson at home but then followed their parental instinct and took him to the emergency room when his fever continued to rise and his heartbeat became rapid.
“He laid down on my chest and it felt like his heart was about to explode,” Ben Crenshaw told Good Morning America. “It was like, ‘OK, let’s go now.'”
The Crenshaws, also parents to an 11-year-old son, said emergency room doctors also thought Bryson had the flu until they noticed he was limping slightly in his right leg.
Concerned about his condition, doctors at the local hospital transferred Bryson to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, about an hour from their home.
When Bryson arrived at the hospital, Crenshaws said his right leg was completely red and swollen.
Doctors diagnosed her son with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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The condition is also known as a “flesh-eating disease” because it can spread quickly and kill tissues in the body. The condition can also be fatal if not recognized quickly enough, according to the CDC.
The Crenshaws said they had never heard of the disease and, like the doctors, did not know how Bryson contracted it.
Necrotizing fasciitis is most commonly contracted through a break in the skin, such as a cut or insect bite, which Bryson didn’t have, according to his parents. In these cases, the most common cause of infection, according to the CDC, is a group of bacteria called group A streptococci (group A streptococci).
Group A Streptococci are also responsible for common infections such as strep throat and tonsillitis, which is swelling of the tonsils in the throat.
“We couldn’t process it,” Megan Crenshaw said. “When we originally got to Riley’s, there were so many people running in, talking to us, wanting information, getting information.”
Bryson quickly underwent surgery, during which doctors removed part each of his small and large intestines, as well as his appendix, because the infection had caused the tissue to die or become necrotic, according to Megan Crenshaw.
“All we heard from every doctor was, ‘Your son is the sickest kid in the hospital right now,'” she said. “We didn’t even expect him to make it through the first few days because he was so ill.”
Bryson beat the odds and survived not just the first few days, but a total of 55 days at Riley Hospital for Children. During that time, he was on a ventilator to help him breathe and underwent around a dozen surgeries, according to his mother.
In one operation, doctors performed an above-knee amputation on Bryson’s right leg, the leg where the infection first struck. Because the infection was so high up in Bryson’s leg, doctors were able to preserve and use part of his unaffected lower leg, which will later help him walk on a prosthesis, according to Dr. Christine Caltoum, Medical Director of Surgical Operations and Division Chief of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery at Riley Hospital.
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“Part of his lower leg was actually used to extend the length of his amputation,” said Caltoum, who was an integral part of Bryson’s nursing team. “This allows a longer portion of the leg to be saved to later make the leg a little more functional for prosthetic use.”
Bryson worked in rehab to learn how to get around alone and use a walker and wheelchair. Once his body has healed, a custom-made prosthetic will be designed for him so he can once again run after his beloved dog, Ace, and play DJ with his brother.
The Crenshaws said they are sharing their story so other parents can follow their instincts and take their child to a doctor or hospital if they notice something is wrong.
“The time frame for treatment is so short,” said Megan Crenshaw. “I would hate if it happened to another kid and [caregivers] don’t have the information.”
dr Stefan Malin, a pediatric critical care physician at Riley Hospital for Children who cared for Bryson, credited the Crenshaws’ quick actions in taking their son to the local emergency room to save his life.
“When I first spoke to Bryson’s mum, she shared that she thought he had a stomach issue or something and I think she sensed something was wrong and she took him to a place that made him fast sent here,” Malin said. He later added, “The important part is to be aggressive early on.”
Early signs of a potentially fatal infection such as necrotizing fasciitis are a rapidly spreading area of swollen skin, severe pain, and fever.
Later, it may appear like blisters, changes in skin color or pus in the infected area, and feelings of dizziness and tiredness, according to the CDC.
The “first line of defense” in treating necrotizing fasciitis is IV antibiotics to stop the infection and surgery to remove the infected or dead tissue, according to the CDC.