A New York girl is recovering after she contracted a flesh-eating bacteria from swimming in a hotel pool.
Amillian ‘Mimi’ Villa, seven, from The Bronx, went swimming at the pool for a birthday party in October 2017.
Within days, she said she felt pain in her left arm and she developed a fever. Her mother took her to the emergency room, but doctors said she had likely just sprained her arm.
But then her arm turned a purple color and began massively swelling, and she was transferred to a different hospital.
It was there that doctors discovered she was infected with group A Streptococcus, the leading cause of the rare bacterial infection known as necrotizing fasciitis.
Surgeons worked to save her arm by removing as much dead skin and muscle as possible, but were forced to amputate it to stop the infection from spreading.
Despite initially losing some self-confidence after coming out of surgery, Mimi has gained her independence back and has learned how to dress on her own, tie her shoes by herself and even dribble and shoot a basketball.
Amillian ‘Mimi’ Villa, seven, from The Bronx, New York, went swimming at a hotel pool for a birthday party in October 2017. Pictured: Mimi after her amputation
She started complaining of pain in her left arm and developed a fever. Her mother took her to the ER, where doctors said she likely had a sprained arm and a common cold. Pictured, left and right: Mimi being fitted for her prosthetic arm, left, and with her sister before the amputation, right
‘Mimi can do everything that a two-handed person can do. She just does it differently,’ Kelly Milano, her occupational therapist at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, told DailyMail.com.
‘She never gives up or asks for help unless she really needs it. She’s a fierce, confident girl.’
The seven-year-old has learned how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by herself, tie her own shoes and dribble a basketball.
But doctors are stumped as to how she became infected in the first place.
Her mother, Vanessa Avila, said her daughter, then five, went swimming at a hotel pool for a birthday party in October 2017.
Mimi and her sister were characters from the Disney movie Descendants for Halloween and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
A few days later, when Avila picked her up from school, Mimi started complaining of pain in her left arm.
Th next morning, Mimi woke up with a fever, so Avila took her daughter to the emergency department at St John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers.
Doctors told Avila that Mimi likely had a sprain and that her fever was due to a common cold.
‘They told me to send her home and give her Tylenol and Motrin for the pain,’ Avila said.
‘I stayed home with her that weekend and, by Sunday, her arm was swollen and purple and stiff as a rock.’
Mimi was taken back to the ER, where doctors assumed she has a blood clot, and and she was eventually transferred to Westchester Medical Center.
But after Mimi’s arm swell and turned purple, she was transferred to a different hospital, where she was diagnosed with a group A streptococcus infection. Pictured: Mimi with her occupational therapist, Kelly Milano
It’s the leading cause of necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating bacteria that destroys tissue under the skin. Pictured: Mimi with her occupational therapist, Kelly Milano
It was there that doctors told Avila that her daughter was infected with a flesh-eating bacteria and she was in organ failure.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that quickly kills surrounding tissue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says between 700 and 1,200 cases occur in the US each year.
It enters through the smallest break in the skin, but Mimi’s mother says her daughter had no cuts or scrapes when she went swimming.
Early symptoms include a red or swollen area of the skin and severe pain. Later symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, blisters and change in skin color.
A prompt diagnosis and rapid treatment is key to stopping the infection in its tracks, according to the CDC.
This includes antibiotics or surgery when medication is unable to reach the tissue that has already been infected.
The CDC says about 25 to 30 percent of necrotizing fasciitis sufferers die annually.
Doctors at Westchester Medical Center tried to removed as much dead skin as possible in an effort to save Mimi’s arm, but were forced to amputate it.
‘I didn’t even know how to react,’ Avila said. ‘I got on my knees and just started praying. It was a nightmare. It was like something out of a movie.’
Mimi was hospitalized for three months in the ICU at Westchester Medical Center before she was transferred to Blythedale Children’s Hospital.
Surgeons tried to salvage Mimi’s arm by removing dead tissue, but they were forced to amputate it. Mimi (left and right) was in the ICU for three months before she was discharged
Mimi (pictured) has since learned how to dress on her own, tie her shoes by herself and even dribble and shoot a basketball
‘She had renal failure, high blood pressure, problems with coagulation in her blood,’ Dr Kathy Silverman, Mimi’s pediatrician at Blythedale, told DailyMail.com.
When Mimi first arrived at Blythedale, she was lacking self-confidence.
‘She was scared and traumatized from all she went through,’ her occupational therapist, Milano, the occupational therapist, said. ‘We focused on helping her find her independence again.’
This included learning how to get dressed, brush her teeth and tie her shoes.
‘Once she had the independence, we worked on some of her interests, playing with Lego and Play-doh.’
Today Mimi is close to being back to the same kid she was before, who loves posing for photos, singing and dancing.
She also recently received a hand-made doll that looks like her including: brown hair, brown eyes, and just a right arm.
Amy Jandrisevits, the owner of the nonprofit that made the doll, told DailyMail.com earlier this year that it’s important for children to have toys that look similar to them,
‘When I make dolls, nine times out of ten, [kids] name them after themselves or some version of their name,’ she said.
‘They really look into the face of a doll and want to see their own face. We can’t underestimate how important that is.’