The Comeback Kid.
For many high school seniors, graduation day is an important rite of passage. But for Yutan (Neb.) High School senior Ashley Munson, this day is one her family feared may never come.
On her 17th birthday, Ashley suffered from a headache, sore throat and 104-degree fever. Her doctor initially thought she had a viral infection. Then Ashley started feeling pain in her hip and chest. Eventually the swelling in her hip was so crippling that she couldn't get out of bed.
Ashley's father, Rob, took her to emergency at a nearby hospital. Doctors there were perplexed by Ashley's condition and arranged for her to be transported to Children's Hospital for more extensive testing.
Upon admission to Children's Hospital, Ashley appeared "toxic," meaning she had the symptoms of a severe infection and was in respiratory distress and shock. She was quickly transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for close monitoring. X-rays of her hip revealed subtle changes suggestive of necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria. The infection was eating away at the skin, soft tissue and muscles around Ashley's right hip.
The surgical team was consulted and acted promptly and decisively, taking her to the operating room for emergency surgery that very afternoon to deal with this life-threatening infection.
One complication led to another - pancreatitis, septic pneumonia, yeast infection and fluid in her chest cavity. When her vital organs started to fail, she was put in a medically induced paralysis, breathing through a ventilator.
"Everything in her body was shutting down," says her mother, Barb. "I was so scared that I would find myself standing over her bed, begging her to fight this beast."
Ashley underwent four surgeries to remove several layers of damaged muscle in her hip. Doctors thought that even if she survived, she might lose her right leg.
To her family's relief, Ashley was a true fighter. She overcame the multi-organ system failure and recovered most of the function in her right leg. After 48 days at Children's - 22 of which were spent in the PICU - Ashley went home.
"The day Ashley was released, the doctors told me they didn't think she'd leave here alive," says Barb. "Children's Hospital is amazing, and I can't thank the doctors and nurses enough. They brought my daughter back to life."
Physical therapy helped Ashley regain her strength, and plastic surgery has improved the scarring on her leg. She has more frequent colds, a sign of a weakened immune system.
"The prompt attention Ashley received in the PICU, the surgeon's rapid recognition of the seriousness of the infection and his quick decision to proceed with surgery on the day of admission were ultimately responsible for Ashley's outcome," says Mohan Mysore, M.D., clinical director of Children's PICU. "Complications were anticipated and treatment was initiated rapidly, and the various members of the health care team - hospitalists, intensivists, nursing staff and surgeons - all worked together efficiently to provide optimum care."
After catching up in school and making the honor roll, Ashley is preparing for college. Before she got sick, she talked about becoming a nurse. Her illness has solidified that plan.