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Flesh-eating bacteria quickly attacks body of Greenville, SC mother

7:01 AM, May 17, 2012   |    comments
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  • Lana Kuykendall, a paramedic, knew something was wrong when she saw a bruise spreading on the back of her leg. Her husband, Darren, raced her to the hospital where she had surgery for necrotizing fasciitis. (GreenvilleOnline.com)
    

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Lana Kuykendall is a paramedic, so when a rapidly spreading red and black bruise appeared on the back of her leg after she gave birth to twins, she knew something was wrong.

She and husband, Darren, raced to the hospital and within 90 minutes, the new mother was having surgery for necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but potentially deadly infection also known as flesh-eating bacteria.

"She's still critical," Darren Kuykendall told GreenvilleOnline.com. "It's been a nightmare."

After a normal pregnancy, the Piedmont couple welcomed their twins, Abigail and Ian, on May 7 at an Atlanta hospital, he said. Except for Lana needing blood, the delivery went normally and the babies were fine, he said.

But he said by the next day, Lana, who had begun having leg cramps the night before, was weak. She couldn't stand or walk. When tests revealed nothing wrong, they returned home Thursday.

By Friday morning, however, 36-year-old Lana discovered the strange lesion on the back of her left leg.

"That scared her," her 42-year-old husband said. "She thought it was a blood clot. So we rushed immediately to Greenville Memorial Hospital."

Lana's friends told 11Alive's Blayne Alexander that the bacteria visibly spread in the six hours Lana sat in the hospital.

"It had started off about the size of her palm, and it grew to cover her whole leg by the time she made it to the [operating room]," said friend Kayla Moon.

"It did go quickly, but I think it would have been a lot scarier had she not gotten the appropriate treatment quickly," added friend Janelle Alier.

"It's been scary for her family, for us to see her as perfectly healthy and vibrant and able to deliver twins naturally to being as sick as she is. It's very scary, but they're very hopeful," Alier said.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a bacterial infection that often occurs in an arm or leg after a minor trauma or surgery, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. Group A Strep is most often responsible in minor traumas, the group reports.

People have developed the condition through a host of experiences, including a C-section or natural childbirth, abdominal surgery or a scratch, a broken leg or a cut, according to the group.

A recent highly publicized case involves Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-old Georgia graduate student who got the infection after suffering a cut in a zip line accident. Doctors had to amputate her left leg and may still have to remove her fingers, her father said.

RELATED | Aimee Copeland's doctors believe flesh-eating bacteria has stopped spreading

The disease occurs when bacteria enter the body and emit toxins that destroy the soft tissue, which becomes gangrenous and must be removed, according to the NF foundation. Along with surgery, treatment includes antibiotics and other medications.

If it spreads, it can cause systemic shock and death within days.

"It is one of the fastest-spreading infections known, so time is the most important factor in survival," the group says on its website.

There are between 9,000 and 11,500 cases of invasive Group A Strep disease a year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 7 percent of them are necrotizing fasciitis.

Scarring and amputations are common, and about one in four patients with necrotizing fasciitis dies.

In Lana Kuykendall's first surgery, doctors removed the dead skin and tissue, her husband said. A little more tissue was removed during a second and third surgery, but no more infected tissue was found in the last operation Monday, he said.

As of Wednesday, Lana had undergone four surgeries with a possible fifth on the way. Doctors believe they have stopped the spread of bacteria and did not have to amputate any limbs.

Lana remained in critical condition Wednesday night.

Group A strep caused the infection, which also spread to her blood, and she is being treated with antibiotics, her husband said. She was still on a ventilator in the intensive care unit on Tuesday and sedated.

The couple has no idea how the infection occurred.

"They are saying things are leaning her way. Her vitals are good and her lab results are looking good," Darren said. "But this could go either way at any given time."

Married for four years, the couple met at the scene of an accident -- he's a firefighter and she's a paramedic with Greenville Hospital System. The twins are healthy and being cared for by family and friends, Darren said.

Anyone wishing to help the Kuykendalls can contact the GHS Federal Credit Union, where a fund has been set up. The address is 211 Patewood Drive, Greenville, 29615, and the phone is 864-288-8046. Money can be donated under Darren Kuykendall's name.

(GreenvilleOnline)

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