A seven-year-old athlete had both legs amputated after contracting the 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 emergency room after his right leg swelled, a rash broke out all over his body, and his extremities hurt so much he couldn’t put on shoes or a coat anymore.
Doctors diagnosed the young man with toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening condition in which toxins released by bacteria damage tissue.
They believe her condition was caused by the flu which weakened her body to the point where mild strep A would normally trigger a serious infection.
Kaden Stevenson, 7, of Michigan, had both legs amputated after being diagnosed with Toxic Shock Syndrome. She had her right leg amputated above the knee and her left below the knee.
Kaden is pictured above with mother Michele. She had assumed that Kaden just had a cold. But when his condition did not improve, she rushed him to see the doctors near his home.
Kaden is a sporty kid, pictured above before his diagnosis. He has an orange belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art, and also played soccer.
He was airlifted 100 miles to a specialized hospital in a matter of hours, where doctors fought to save his life.
However, they were unable to rescue his legs, as they had to amputate the right one above the knee and the left one just below.
Toxic shock syndrome can lead to amputation by damaging blood vessels, cutting off circulation to extremities such as the hands and feet, or necrosis or death of body tissue.
Kaden was released from the hospital this week wearing a Superman cape and to smiles and applause from the staff for the first time in months.
His mother, Michele, says that her ‘hero’ misses his sports days, but is looking forward to getting a prosthetic.
The young man was an avid soccer player and had also achieved his orange belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art.
Talking to the Michigan news site WZZM13Michele said: ‘I’ve been calling him my superhero because he’s mine.
“Everything he does, he tries with all his might and never gives up. And then even with learning how to do the wheelchair, he just takes off.
‘When I think about if I had done something different 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 seemed to worsen, she rushed him to Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint.
There, an ER doctor sat her up and gave her “the most serious look I’ve ever seen a doctor give me,” before saying 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 that he had been infected with influenza and strep A, which had penetrated his bloodstream and deep into his tissues.
Streptococcus A is a bacterial infection that, in severe cases, can spread to the bloodstream. Influenza is a virus that usually triggers cold-like symptoms.
Doctors diagnosed him with toxic shock syndrome, caused when Strep A bacteria enter the bloodstream and begin releasing toxins that can damage tissue.
They spent two weeks fighting for his life in the hospital, but ultimately had to make the heartbreaking decision to amputate both of his legs.
Since then, he has been recovering at a rehab center. He was discharged a week ago and is now waiting to receive his prosthetic legs.
Speaking about how her son is adjusting, Ms Stevenson said Good morning america: ‘He always talks about (how) he misses the old days and misses when he could walk and how things used to be.
‘But he said he’s a little happy. He likes his new legs.
Kaden was airlifted 100 miles to a specialized hospital for care. Doctors fought to save his leg, but the decision was eventually made that he needed amputation.
Mother Michele pictured above with her son Kaden on social media
Streptococcal bacteria are present throughout the body, including in the mouth and on the skin, and are usually harmless.
But if they get through the skin and into the bloodstream, they can trigger an infection and release toxins that throw the immune system out of control.
It can lead to amputation if there is extensive damage to blood vessels caused by toxins or if bacterial infection has caused necrotizing fasciitis, where bacteria have caused tissue death in the affected areas.
Kaden is shown above before he developed toxic shock syndrome.
About 14,000 to 25,000 cases of strep A cross this barrier each year, leading to toxic shock syndrome in rare cases.
Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital pediatrician George Fogg, who was not involved in Kaden’s care, told WSSM that Kaden’s influenza infection at the same time could have made his strep A more severe.
He said this is because it may have disrupted the mucosal lining that helps prevent Strep A bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
It is also known that children are at higher risk of contracting strep A compared to adults because their immune systems are still developing and they are often in close contact with others at school, increasing the risk of infection.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) renewed its warning about 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 increase in RSV and influenza infections, which reached record levels for the time of year.
Some experts in the US predicted a wave of strep A infections. 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 child has any of those signs of fever, complains of pain, sees rashes, just take them to the ER.
‘Catching him early, that’s the most important thing. And listen to your children. Do they tell you that they don’t feel well? Don’t hide it under the rug, assuming it’s a little cold, get it checked out.
Strep A: the signs and symptoms that all parents should be aware of
What symptoms and signs should parents of sick children be aware of? In case it could be invasive?
First, reassure parents that the vast majority of children who are unwell at this time of year are unwell with cold and flu viruses that need very little help or input.
Scarlet fever in particular is associated with a rash, so it is a high fever, and scarlet is due to the color of the rash on white skin.
The key to the rash is that the skin feels bumpy or bumpy. It can sometimes be referred to as a “sandpaper rash.”
In darker skin, parents may not see any color changes often, so sandpaper rash is very important, particularly in the crevices of the arms.
Looking for it in the elbows is a good sport for parents to feel.
The other sign of scarlet fever is what’s called ‘strawberry tongue’, where you get a white coating, redness and irritation on your tongue which, if you stick it out, makes your tongue look like a strawberry.
Doctors recommend antibiotics for people with scarlet fever because, rarely, it can cause the most invasive disease.
If they get a sandpaper rash along with a fever, call NHS 111 or a GP to seek medical attention. But the vast majority of children with a fever respond well to Calpol, acetaminophen or ibuprofen and that should be the first stop for parents as they are concerned.
Is there a threshold for discomfort that parents need to notice or take action?
Well, the sore throat that people describe as having group A strep is really the worst sore throat they’ve ever had: they can’t swallow anything. Often they will try to suck on ice cubes as that is the only thing.
So it’s not like a kid says ‘Oh I have a sore throat but I can eat my dinner’, it’s a sore throat when they can’t eat, they can’t drink too, so that’s the first thing.
And again, a sore throat that gets better with some over-the-counter pain reliever is probably not one of those very severe sore throats.
But even more worrisome is the sign of a very sick child. Those signs are a child who is very sleepy, who does not wake up, even after taking some anti-inflammatory medicine, who does not run for a long time, who does not drink and also who is dehydrated and who does not urinate.
If a child does not go to the bathroom a couple of times a day or does not wet his diapers, it is a sign to take into account.
For those more serious things, we often have children and mine included who immediately perk up once you give them some paracetamol. That usually means they have a usual type of viral infection. It’s the ones who don’t dare that really worry us.