Educate before you medicate: Chase's battle with SJS

Educate Before you Medicate
(Source: McDonnough family)
(Source: McDonnough family)
(Source: McDonnough family)
(Source: McDonnough family)

POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - As with almost anything in life, the best offense is a good defense.

For 15-year-old Chase McDonnough of Pocahontas, it's something that's drilled into him every single basketball practice.

For his parents, that same mantra was the driving force behind keeping their children healthy and feeling well.

"We have four kids, we've seen plenty of things," Andrew McDonnough said.

When it came to her children feeling sick, Chase's mom Jenna said she would reach for the ibuprofen to combat it.

"Kids had a fever? I'd give them ibuprofen," Jenna said.

In 2014 though, what was a routine act turned their lives upside down.

"I had a lot of guilt for a long time because I've told many people, ibuprofen was my go-to," Jenna said.

The problems all started in January 2014.

"Chase had always been a very active, energetic, go go go like typical teenager," Andrew said.

For weeks though, Chase was just not himself.

"It really started very subtly," Andrew said. "Tired, headaches, dizziness...your typical, maybe sinus type stuff that every parent kind of sees with their kid. It could be the common cold; they could be fighting something"

For a week straight in late January, Chase was in and out of the health clinic.

There, he was tested for strep throat, mono and the flu. None of the test results came back positive.

By the time Friday rolled around, Chase had developed blisters on his mouth and eyes.

"The whites of his eyes? There was no white," Jenna said. "They were completely red and blistered."

He was then hospitalized.

"We realized this is something we need to have treated immediately," Andrew said.

Meanwhile, Chase's skin had started to blister too. He was reaching fevers of 105 degrees.

"They were obviously very concerned, couldn't get him stable," Andrew said.

During an X-ray, doctors discovered he also had pneumonia in one of his lungs, but they couldn't explain why his body was reacting in such a way.

"Not knowing of course, in order to get his fever down, they were giving him ibuprofen and Tylenol and NSAIDs," Andrew said. "We didn't think anything abnormal about it."

It was a move that nearly killed him.

"Chase was progressively getting worse at a very quick rate," Andrew said.

By Saturday, the decision was made to transport Chase to Arkansas Children's Hospital. It's lucky they did.

"That's really how we met, unfortunately," Dr. Jake Lee said.

Dr. Lee, a pediatric critical care fellow at ACH, was on call the night Chase entered the hospital.

He saw Chase within minutes of his arrival and quickly diagnosed him with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.

"It's actually an immune system reaction, an overreaction," Dr. Lee said. "For some reason, something happens to the body, it can be a medication, it's often a virus and we can't identify the cause."

It was something the family and doctors had unknowingly been fueling for weeks.

"That mycoplasma bacteria from the pneumonia that he had in his left lung so depleted his immune system so depleted," Andrew said. "Then when you introduce an over the counter drug like ibuprofen, like an NSAID, it triggers that reaction."

Dr. Lee stated that the blisters on the outside of his body were similar to a second degree burn.

"If it involves the skin, that's actually the best," Dr. Lee said.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. His parents learned that what Chase was presenting outwardly was also happening to his mucosal membrane.

"The airway, the mouth, the lips, the tongue, the eyes," Dr. Lee said.

To save his live, Chase was intubated and placed in a chemical coma.

"We were being told we're just trying to keep him alive," Andrew said.

Unable to give Chase certain medications, Dr. Lee and the rest of the primary care team had to get creative with treatment.

"We gave what's called intravenous immunoglobulin," Dr. Lee said. "Basically they pool a bunch of immunoglobulins from human donors and then they give it to a patient and it actually blocks what the immune system is doing to the body. He got that for three days."

Between the immunoglobulins, more commonly known as IVIG, and prayers from people across Region 8 and beyond, the McDonnough family was simply waiting for Chase to get better.

Each day, he was given a 50/50 chance to live. On February 11 though, things took a turn for the worst.

"That morning, the breathing was slowed, he was progressively getting worse," Andrew said. "The doctors said I'm sorry, we're going to do the best we can but we give him maybe a 2% to 5% chance to live through the day."

Then something strange started to happen. The new blisters that were forming were going away just as quickly.

"So you had to take pictures to prove like, am I seeing this right?" Andrew said.

Doctors and nurses were being called back to see his progression.

"They had all done morning rounds that morning and saw how dire the circumstance was and that afternoon they're coming in really to witness what turned out to be a miracle," Andrew said.

After weeks of only knowing him as comatose and covered in bandages and blisters, one of the people most happy to see Chase make his comeback was Dr. Jake Lee.

"His parents brought him back; it was pretty amazing," Dr. Lee said. "They said Chase, this is Dr. Lee, this is the man that saved your life...and'll never forget something like that."

While in the hospital, Chase lost 15% of his body weight.

Though it took him months to rebuild and he still has to use an inhaler due to the scar tissue on his lungs, he is now back to his healthy, active self.

However, he can never take ibuprofen or NSAIDs again.

Dr. Lee told Region 8 News that he sees approximately two to three cases of SJS each year at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

His parents say since their journey with SJS, they've heard of more and more cases.

Regardless, both Dr. Lee and the McDonnough family say this is not something to live your life in fear over. They simply urge parents to educate before you medicate and know the signs of what could be deadly.

For more information on SJS, including a more in depth description of symptoms, causes and treatments, visit the Mayo Clinic's website.

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