It started with an injured ankle that turned into blotchy skin and a fever. But one Florida family says it didn’t stop there.
They soon learned that their athletic 11-year-old boy was fighting flesh-eating bacteria.
For his family, Jesse Brown was the miracle child.
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“Bebe and Brad, they struggled to get pregnant for 10 years and then they finally had Jesse,” her cousin Megan Brown said.
At 11, he was already stronger than most. BMX and motocross competitions are where Jesse shined.
“He was just such an old soul. Like, everyone was like, ‘He’s such a small adult, like, in this little, tiny body,’ you know?” Brown said.
His mother and father saw him grow into a strong and active fifth grader at Lakemont Elementary School.
“When he was nine, he started doing motocross. Anything with two wheels can go fast,” Brown said.
So when Jesse hurt his ankle on a treadmill, sprained it, and possibly cut it, they didn’t think about it.
“A few days later they went to the ER in the morning because he woke up and his whole leg was covered in spots, purple red, almost bruising. And his arms and his legs were very cold, but his body was very, very hot,” Brown said.
They were told it was group A strep that could have infected his wound and turned into flesh-eating bacteria.
“They had to bring him back several times because his heart was doing crazy things. His organs were starting to shut down and they had to intubate him,” Brown said.
His family wants everyone to know what happened to Jesse because, although rare, it could happen to anyone.
Dr. Alan Cross is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“If group A strep forms there, it can cause this infection very quickly, and the reason is that it makes a toxin,” Cross said.
Cross says there is a marked increase in strep A infections. He sees these infections in children and adults, from scratches to large wounds.
“Adults who had trauma from car crashes and injuries were pretty similar to what this boy had, except they were adults. And they also have these soft tissues in infections that received surgical treatment in addition to prompt antibiotic therapy,” Cross said.
Group A streptococcal infection can lead to secondary infections. Cross advises keeping all wounds clean and identifying problems early.
“The bottom line here is, first, clean the wound properly, and then be able to monitor it over time,” Cross said.
In Jesse’s case, his family says, he was wearing a boot for his ankle injury, and they just didn’t know what was going on soon enough. After Jesse had severe brain swelling, they lost him.
“I kept thinking about Bebe, her mom, because she’s my favorite, and my heart really broke for her,” Brown said.
They share their grief to raise awareness and remember their miracle child.
“He was so adventurous and he would want everyone to live their life to the fullest. For sure. And he would also like everyone to learn to ride a motorcycle,” Brown said.
“This is a horrific case but it will raise our awareness,” said Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty.
“Yeah, it’s scary, it sounds scary but it’s really so rare. It’s something to be aware of,” Husty said.
Husty said through 2022 there are between 750 and 1,000 cases of Strep A in the United States.
Since last year, he said the number of cases specifically in children had risen to between 1,000 and 1,500.
“If their symptoms are more than you would expect with a sprained ankle, more than you would expect with an injury, then yes, we probably need to get it checked out, especially if that symptom includes pain. fever,” Husty said.
Other symptoms to watch out for include bruises that turn red or if your child tells you that their pain is getting worse.
Lakemont Elementary School started a foundation in Jesse’s honor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise watching out for these warning signs when it comes to necrotizing fasciitis:
- a red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly
- severe pain
- changes in skin color
- one or more black spots on the skin
- ulcers or blisters on the skin
A fundraiser was set up to raise money for Jesse’s memorial service and hospital bills.