DESTIN, Fla. - A mother said her daughter was left fighting for her life after contracting a “flesh-eating” bacteria while on vacation in Florida — and the woman recounted the terrifying experience as a warning for others planning a similar beach vacation.
In a post on Facebook, Michelle Brown wrote that the family was visiting Destin in early June when the girl developed severe pain in her calf, followed by a rash and then a fever, before ultimately being diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly in the body and deteriorates the person's skin and tissue.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three people die from the infection, even with treatment.
After arriving June 7, Brown said the family did some shopping and exploring while it rained the first two days of the trip and “made the best of it.”
“The beach was closed Sunday when we visited Pompano Beach. They weren’t letting people get out into the water beyond ankle deep,” Brown shared in the post. “The storms from the days prior had stirred up the ocean and it wasn’t as clear as it normally is. The water looked murky. We were only allowed in the water to our ankles because the waves were huge and the undertow was too dangerous.”
The next morning, Brown said her daughter, Kylei, woke up with pain in her calf, which she originally thought was a pulled muscle. Over the next couple of days, the pain got better — until it eventually got worse and the girl was unable to walk.
“Wednesday morning, June 12th, she had severe pain in her calf and was in tears trying to walk,” Brown said. “I had to put her on my back and carry her around. We left for home that morning.”
Brown said while driving home to their reported home state of Indiana, she called the doctor to schedule her 12-year-old daughter an appointment to get it checked.
Doctors initially suspected it could be a blood clot from traveling, and the family was sent to the hospital in their home state of Indiana. Brown said that’s when her daughter started developing a rash on her body. Her leg was also swollen, “had a red line running down her calf” and she developed a fever.
“Everything started going downhill quickly, because to sum things up some, she had contracted a bacteria somehow that had already turned into infection,” Brown wrote in the Facebook post. “It was an aggressive infection and has already spread up her leg to her thigh.”
Brown said her daughter’s blood pressure was in “critical numbers,” her heart rate was “very high,” and she was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at the hospital.
“She had a pocket of infection behind her knee they pulled out via needle. Then they took her in for emergency surgery to try to remove the infection. The infection was in her muscle lining (fascia). They put on a wound vac instead of closing it.”
Brown said they learned the surgery to remove the infection was to try to save Kylei’s leg, “but most importantly her life.”
After developing septic shock, Brown said her daughter had more surgeries, several IVs and was prescribed “potent” antibiotics. Brown said the girl spent a week at the hospital before being released. She is now “doing better and stabilized” but is still sick and will have “a long road of recovery to go.”
The bacteria that cause necrotizing fasciitis most commonly enter the body through a break in the skin, including cuts and scrapes, burns, insect bites and surgical wounds.
Brown said after learning about necrotizing fasciitis, she “wholeheartedly” believes her daughter contracted the bacteria through a scrape on her big toe, which was located on the same leg, while the family visited Pompano Beach in Destin.
“I am just so thankful for the many prayers, the quick response and efforts of her medical teams and the aggressive treatment she has received. Because of that, I still have my baby girl with me today,” Brown wrote.
Her post, which contains images of her daughter’s leg while battling the infection, has been shared more than 64,000 times since being posted June 24 on Facebook.
“I have spent the past few days seeing numerous friends and family at the beach enjoying their family vacations, and I can’t help but feel sick to my stomach and fear for those I know,” Brown wrote.
More than one type of bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, according to the CDC. Cases of infection from the flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, which leads to necrotizing fasciitis, have been on the rise in coastal regions where the bacteria are not normally found. A team of researchers believe it may have to do with rising ocean temperatures.
Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment and prompt surgery are important to stopping necrotizing fasciitis, the CDC says. Since 2010, approximately 700 to 1,200 cases have been reported each year in the United States.
“It is CRITICAL to be aware of the signs and symptoms and getting treatment quickly,” Brown echoed.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.