A sporty seven-year-old has had both his legs amputated after catching flu and Strep A at the same time.
Kaden Stevenson, from Michigan, began complaining of exhaustion before Christmas which his mother, Michele, assumed was just a common cold.
But she took him to the ER after his right leg swelled up, a rash erupted over his body and his limbs became so painful he could no longer put on shoes or a coat.
Doctors diagnosed the youngster with toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening condition where toxins released by bacteria damage tissue and put vital organs at risk of shutting down.
They believe his condition was caused by flu weakening his body to the point where normally mild Strep A triggered a severe infection.
Kaden Stevenson, 7, from Michigan, had both his legs amputated after being diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome. His right leg was amputated above the knee and left below the knee
Kaden is pictured above with mother Michele. She had assumed Kaden only had a cold. But when his condition didn’t improve she rushed him to see doctors near their home
Kaden is a sporty child, pictured above before his diagnosis. He has an orange belt inTang Soo Do, a Korean martial art, and also played soccer
He was helicoptered 100 miles to a specialist hospital within hours where medics fought to save his life.
They could not rescue his legs, however, with the right needing to be amputated above the knee and the left just below.
Toxic shock syndrome can lead to amputation by damaging blood vessels, cutting off circulation to extremities like the hands and feet, or necrosis, or the death of body tissue.
Kaden was discharged from hospital this week wearing a superman cape and to smiles and applause from staff for the first time in months.
His mother Michele says that her ‘hero’ misses his sporting days, but is looking forward to getting prosthetics.
The youngster was an avid soccer player and had also achieved his orange belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art.
Speaking to Michigan news site WZZM13, Michele said: ‘I’ve been calling him my superhero because he is mine.
‘Everything that he does, he just tries so hard and never gives up. And then, even with learning how to do the wheelchair, he just takes off.
‘When I think back to if I had done anything differently than what I had done, my son might not be here.
‘If I had waited one more day, one more hour, he might not be here.’
Kaden came home from school in Grand Blanc, Michigan, one night just before Christmas complaining that he felt tired.
At first, Michele thought it was nothing serious and let him rest.
But when, four days later, his condition only seemed to be getting worse she rushed him to Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint.
There, an ER doctor sat her down and gave ‘the most serious look I’ve ever seen a doctor give me’, before saying that her son was ‘really sick’.
Within hours Kaden had been loaded onto a helicopter and flown to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, more than 100 miles away in Grand Rapids.
Tests revealed he had been infected with influenza and Strep A which had penetrated his bloodstream and deep into his tissues.
Strep A is a bacterial infection which, in serious cases, can spread into the bloodstream. Influenza is a virus which normally triggers cold-like symptoms.
Doctors diagnosed him with toxic shock syndrome, when Strep A bacteria get into the bloodstream and start to release toxins that can damage tissue and stop organs from working.
This differs from sepsis, which is when an overactive immune system causes damage to blood vessels and cells.
They spent two weeks fighting to save his life in hospital, but eventually had to make the heartbreaking decision to amputate both his legs.
Since then, he has been recovering in a rehabilitation center. He was discharged a week ago and is now waiting to get his prosthetic legs.
Talking about how her son is adjusting, Ms Stevenson told Good Morning America: ‘He always talks about [how] he misses the old times and he misses when he could walk and how things used to be.
‘But he said he’s kind of happy. He likes his new legs.’
Kaden was flown 100 miles to a specialist hospital for care. Doctors fought to save his legs but eventually the decision was taken that he needed an amputation
Mother Michele pictured above with her son Kaden on social media
Strep bacteria are present all over the body, including in the mouth and on the skin, and are normally harmless.
But if they get past the skin and into the bloodstream, they can trigger an infection and release toxins that send the immune system haywire.
It may lead to amputation if there is extensive damage to blood vessels caused by the toxins or if the bacterial infection has caused necrotizing fasciitis, where bacteria has caused tissue death in the affected areas.
About 14,000 to 25,000 Strep A cases get past this barrier every year, which leads to toxic shock syndrome in rare cases.
Pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital George Fogg, who was not involved in Kaden’s care, told WSSM that Kaden’s influenza infection at the same time may have made Strep A more severe.
Kaden is shown above before he developed toxic shock syndrome
He said this was because it may have disrupted the mucus lining helping to prevent Strep A bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
Children are also known to be at higher risk from Strep A compared to adults because their immune systems are still developing and they are often in close contact with others at school, raising the risk of infection.
This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) renewed its warning over Strep A, noting that at least five children in Illinois have died from the infection this year.
There were concerns earlier in the winter that cases of the disease, which are most common between December and April, would spike amid the end of Covid restrictions.
They were spurred by a major uptick in flu and RSV infections, which hit record levels for the time of year.
A wave of Strep A infections was forecast by some experts in the US. In the UK, the wave claimed the lives of several children.
Ms Stevenson has revealed her son’s story to warn others about the risks of Strep A infections.
She told GMA: ‘If your kid has any of those signs of fever, they complain of pain, you see any rashes, just take them to the emergency room.
‘Catch it early, that’s the biggest thing. And listen to your kids. They tell you they don’t feel good? Don’t just sweep it under the rug, assuming that it’s a little cold, get it checked out.’
Strep A: The signs and symptoms that all parents should look out for
What symptoms and signs should parents of ill children be looking out for? In case it could be invasive?
Firstly, to reassure parents that the vast majority of children who at this time of the year are unwell, are unwell with virus colds and flus that need very little help or input.
Scarlet fever in particular is associated with a rash, so it’s a high fever and the scarlet is from the color of the rash on white skin.
The key thing about the rash is the skin feels bumpy or lumpy. It can sometimes be referred to as a ‘sandpaper rash’.
In darker skin, parents may not see any colour change often so the sandpaper rash is very important, particularly in the crevices of the arms.
Looking out for it in the elbows is a good sport for parents to feel.
The other sign of scarlet fever is what is called ‘strawberry tongue’, where you get a white coating, redness and irritation on the tongue which if you stick it out it makes the tongue look like a strawberry.
Doctors advise antibiotics for people with scarlet fever because it can in rare situations go on to cause the more invasive disease.
If they’ve got a sandpaper rash alongside a fever, then call NHS 111 or a GP to seek medical advice. But the vast majority of children with fever respond well to Calpol, paracetamol or ibuprofen and that should be the first port of call in parents as they’re worried.
Is there a threshold of unwellness parents should notice or take action at?
Well the sore throat people describe with group A Strep is really the worst sore throat they’ve ever had – they’re not able to swallow anything. Often, they will be trying to suck ice cubes, as that’s the only thing.
So it’s not like a child going ‘oh I’ve got a sore throat but I can eat my dinner’, it’s a sore throat when they’re not able to eat, they’re not able to drink as well, so that’s the first thing.
And again, a sore throat that improves with some analgesia over-the-counter medication is probably not one of those very severe sore throats.
But even more concerning is the sign of a very sick child. Those signs are a child who is really drowsy, not waking up, even after taking some anti-inflammatory medication, not running around for long periods, not drinking and also then being dehydrated and not passing urine.
If a child is not going to the toilet a couple of times a day or is not having wet nappies, that’s a sign to watch out for.
For those more severe things, often we’ve got children and my own included who perk up immediately once you give them a little bit of paracetamol. That usually means that they’ve got a usual type of viral infection. It’s the ones that don’t perk up that we really worry about.
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