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Patient Stories: Bryce Smith

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A healthy 14-month old from Santee, California who contracted MRSA and spent many harrowing weeks in the intensive care unit as doctors struggled to save his life.

He had his first cold two days before Christmas in 2005, but was not fazed by it at all. Before then, 14-month-old Bryce Smith had never been sick. But at Christmas he had a cough and the sniffles. On Christmas night, Bryce’s mother, Katie, checked on her sleeping toddler and was alarmed by his rapid breathing. The next day, Bryce’s parents took him to the pediatrician, who diagnosed a viral infection and advised the family to alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Bryce had a fever of 102. Katie, who has asthma, worried that her son might be suffering from the same disease, but the doctor said his lungs sounded clear.

Over the next week, Bryce was listless, he wouldn’t eat, and his stomach was bloated. His parents became increasingly worried. At 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, they took him to the emergency room, where the seriousness of their son’s condition became immediately apparent. “It was a whirlwind,” Katie said, “with people rushing in and out of the room.”

An X-ray showed that Bryce had pneumonia. A CT scan showed that his right lung was filled with fluid that had turned gelatin-like. Four hours after arriving at the ER, Bryce was scheduled for surgery. Doctors found that a methicillin-resistant staph infection had eaten a hole through his lung.

For the first 12 days that Bryce was in the hospital, the doctors didn’t know whether he would live. Doctors battled to force air into the child’s lungs, but as they told Katie, it was like trying to pump air into a brick. He had five chest tubes in order to remove the air and pus from inside his chest, and he was put on a respirator and an oscillator. Doctors prescribed high levels of antibiotics, including vancomycin, in a desperate battle to fight the infections. For six weeks, the child did not wake up. During Bryce’s stay in the hospital, he suffered from several additional infections, including Pseudomonas and yeast.

Bryce is doing much better now. He is off the respirator and chest tubes, and is slowly being weaned from the antibiotics and pain medications. He was released from the hospital on Friday, Feb. 24, 2006, but is still very weak. Once he is strong enough, Bryce will have to relearn how to walk. His recovery could take several months. For now, his parents are just thankful that he is alive and hopeful for his future.

As of April 2007, the Smith's total bill for Bryce's care was just under $1 million. Fortunately, the family's insurance does not have a ceiling on payments; otherwise, the Smiths say they would be in financial ruin. Bryce's ongoing care needs are decreasing, but he still has regular visits with the pulmonologist, nephrologist, and his pediatrician. He still tires out easily with exertion.

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