The paramedic who contracted a flesh-eating bacteria after giving
birth to twins is finally going home to her babies after more than two
months in the hospital, much of which she mercifully doesn't remember.
just very grateful to be alive," a smiling Lana Kuykendall said Monday,
still weak and tired from fighting the dangerous infection that nearly
took her life.
should be able to get around at home with a walker," she said, speaking
publically for the first time. "But I won't be running any races soon."
terrifying journey began with the births of Abigail and Ian on May 7 at
an Atlanta hospital. The delivery was normal and her babies were
healthy, though Lana needed blood, according to her husband, Darren.
after returning to their home in Piedmont, she discovered a strange
lesion on her left thigh. It wasn't really painful. But she suspected it
was a blood clot - a potentially serious complication that can occur in
just looked kind of like discolored skin, sort of like a bruise," Lana,
36, recalls. "I thought it was a blood clot in a vein and I knew that
was something you shouldn't mess around with."
their twins not yet a week old, she and Darren, a firefighter she met
at the scene of an accident, headed for the emergency room at Greenville
initially disappointed that we had to go back to a hospital. But when I
got there...I was feeling a lot sicker all over. And I knew it was bad,"
she said. "It never crossed my mind that it would be something like
quickly realized that Lana had necrotizing fasciitis, a fierce bacterial
infection that strikes between 550 and 1,000 people a year, killing one
in four of them, and often resulting in multiple amputations for those
who survive, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
bacterial infection of skin, soft tissue and muscle which can spread
very rapidly," said Dr. Bill Kelly, epidemiologist for Greenville
Hospital System, adding it's unlikely the source of the infection will
ever be known.
"It can be caused by a number of bacteria, in her case, Group A
strep, the same bacteria that causes Strep throat," he said. "And that
accounted for the fever, low blood pressure and multi-organ failures
that we saw."
Necrotizing fasciitis occurs
when bacteria enter the body and emit toxins that destroy the soft
tissue, which dies and must be removed. Lana needed immediate surgery to
save her life.
flesh-eating bacteria grow so fast you can actually see the skin change
in front of your eyes," said Dr. Spence Taylor, a vascular surgeon and
vice president for academics at GHS. "(Staff) recognized that
immediately and took her to surgery."
endured at least 18 procedures to excise bacteria and dead tissue from
her legs, though she was spared amputations, he said. She had other
operations, too, to put in a breathing tube and a feeding tube, as well
as at least three reconstructive skin grafts, he said. And she spent 38
days in intensive care, being cared for by 70 doctors and 150 nurses and
other allied health professionals, he said.
eight occasions, she was cocooned in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which
promotes healing by "super-oxygenating" the blood, said pulmonologist
Dr. John Kudlak. It reduces amputations from a rate of 75 percent to
about 25 percent, he said, and the mortality rate from 60 percent to 25
Given how painful it all was, Lana says it's a blessing that most of it is a blank.
remember the birth and coming home with them and coming to the
hospital. And I knew I was going to surgery," she said. "But I don't
remember anything after that until I was out of the ICU."
Through it all, Darren, 42, has been by her side, terrified about the possible outcomes, but praying she would make it.
seemed like one step forward and two steps back sometimes. She went
into the OR a lot," he remembers. "I'm just so grateful that she is
still with me because it was very, very scary, very stressful there for a
not only pulled through, her progress has amazed her caregivers. After a
few weeks, she was able to spend time with the precious babies whose
first two months of life she lost.
"I wanted to hold them and get to know them," she said. "They weren't newborns anymore."
June 21, still too weak to stand on her own, she was transferred to
Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital, said medical director Dr. Kevin
wanted the most aggressive therapy and when I looked at her in the
beginning, I wasn't sure she'd be able to do it," he said. "But she did
very well. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears - literally. But now
she's walking 250 feet plus and she's able to care for herself and
provide care for Ian and Abigail."
walks, climbs stairs and lifts light weights to strengthen muscles
weakened by multiple operations and months of being bedridden. It was
tough at first. Now it's a job she does to get home to her husband and
I'm able to focus on the fact that the best thing for them is for me to
get better," she said. "And at times, I just break down and cry."
Kuykendalls say they are grateful to God, the medical staff, the family
and friends who supported them and cared for the twins, their fellow
first responders who held fundraisers and blood drives, and even the
strangers who offered words of comfort from afar.
And though she's going home this week, Lana still has months of rehab ahead of her, but doctors are optimistic about her future.
have my moments of pain and discomfort, and I'm a lot more tired and
weaker than I used to be," she said. "But I'm also getting stronger
every day. I want to get back to work and to being a mom how I