By AMANDA C. DAVIS
Jenny Enyeart of Canfield and her infant daughter Halle Smith are making up for a little lost time.
The two are learning more about each other every day and forming the kind of bond most moms experience in the first few days with a newborn baby — a bond that was compromised because of Jenny’s post-birth bout with a rare bacteria.
Even those middle-of-the-night feedings are a blessing for the new mother who knows her outcome could have been much different.
“I don’t mind it at all because I’m so happy to be able to do it,” Jenny said.
The Canfield woman talked recently with The Vindicator about her harrowing post-birth experience with necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as the “flesh-eating” bacteria.
Halle was born March 13 at Northside Medical Center via Caesarean. Within days, Jenny, 27, was home recovering but felt feverish, had a lot of pain and was worried something was wrong.
Her incision looked fine, blood work didn’t reveal a problem and symptoms mirrored those of a urinary tract infection. She was given two oral doses of the antibiotic Cipro and went home, hoping to move forward.
Instead, a week after returning home from the hospital, Jenny’s fever increased and she was taken to St. Elizabeth Boardman campus for a battery of tests. Within hours, her incision had turned bright red, and tests revealed an infection.
Jenny credits her parents, Dr. Jim Enyeart, a local geriatrician, and Barb, a nurse, for recognizing the gravity of the situation and insisting she be seen by a surgeon.
She was in surgery the following day with Dr. Joshua Gady of Poland who said her vital signs and the look of the incision indicated a problem. “I knew there was a severe infection that needed to be drained immediately,” he explained.
When she was opened, Jenny said the tissue inside was black. At that point she didn’t know what was going on, but doctors told her parents the diagnosis and that tissue needed to be removed right away to stop the infection’s spread. They also told her parents they’d do all they could to save Jenny’s life.
The fast-spreading, life-threatening infection can destroy muscle, skin tissue and fat very rapidly. Those who develop the rare infection can lose limbs or die, but many can carry the Group A Streptococcus bacteria on their bodies without developing the infection.
“Nobody really understands why in certain people this infection becomes necrotizing,” Dr. Gady said.
The doctor said he treats a few cases of necrotizing fasciitis every year, and some have had significant tissue loss and faced amputation. Jenny has been his youngest patient and Dr. Gady said she was fortunate because she was young and otherwise healthy.
“Timing was key,” he said and explained that early surgical intervention can lessen the chance of organ failure and death.
While the infection hadn’t spread to her organs or blood, Jenny said it began to eat its way to the outside of her skin. A second surgery was performed a day later to remove more tissue and aggressive antibiotics were given.
Jenny said she thought she was going to die and was scared, feelings that intensified at night when she was alone, feeling tired and when things were quiet.
Dr. Gady said Jenny would have lost limbs if the bacteria had spread for another day.
“It could have ended very differently,” her mother said. Dr. Enyeart believes the Cipro may have slowed the infection’s progression.
Jenny was home two days later but in a lot of pain. The wound was left open, so it could heal from the inside out. At this point, she said her wound was 11 inches long and up to 4 inches deep.
With help from Tammy Menning, an MVI Home Care nurse, pieces of sponge had to be placed inside the wound three days a week to absorb drainage.
Barb Enyeart said Menning was “a saint” and that she visited Jenny on her days off. Jenny’s sister Katie Stone, family and friends also pulled together to care for Halle during this time.
Halle’s father, Jordan Smith of Youngstown, was stationed with the Air Force in Texas at the time but is home now, stationed in Vienna, and spending time with his daughter.
Jenny is healed now, and the wound has closed. She has been cleared to go back to work as a hairstylist at Entheos Salon and Day Spa in Boardman.
She is also taking a summer class at Youngstown State University and is enrolled full time for the fall.
She didn’t see her daughter for a week after the first surgery to remove tissue and wasn’t allowed to lift her for the following two weeks. “I was really worried she wouldn’t know who I was,” she explained.
As it turns out, the time they spent apart hasn’t been an issue for mom and baby. “It’s funny how they just know you,” Jenny said.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW | Necrotizing Fasciitis
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacterium is usually found on skin and in the throat. People may carry Group A Strep in these parts of the body without getting sick. However, these bacteria can cause severe or life-threatening illnesses when they get into parts of the body they are not usually found. One of the least common but most severe of the GAS diseases is necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria).
What is it? A quickly progressing disease which destroys muscle, skin tissue and fat.
How is it contracted? When the patient’s body is unable to defend itself against the bacteria because of compromised immune function, other illness or when sores, cuts or other breaks in the skin allow the bacteria to enter the body.
How common is it? Of the 9,000 to 11,500 cases of invasive GAS diseases that occur in the U.S. each year, causing 1,000 to 1,800 deaths, necrotizing fasciitis accounts for an average of 6 percent to 7 percent of the cases.
How does the disease spread? Through contact with mucous from the nose or throat of those infected or through contact with infected wounds on the body.
Who is at risk? Few people who have contact with GAS bacteria will develop the invasive, serious diseases. Some may have a skin or throat infection, though some will display no symptoms at all. People with conditions including diabetes, cancer and chronic heart or lung disease are at more risk of developing invasive GAS disease. The elderly, those who use steroid medications, those with skin lesions and adults who have a history of alcohol abuse or injection drug use are also at a higher risk.
What are early signs and symptoms? Severe pain and swelling, which usually increases quickly, fever and redness at the site of the wound.
What is the required treatment? High doses of penicillin and clindamycin are recommended and early and aggressive surgery is often performed to stop the disease spread and remove damaged tissue.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention