Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Tragic Loss, A grateful Memory, and A Silent Epidemic

A couple of days each work week, I take off at lunch by myself. Its my time to catch up on reading, usually back issues of the Wall Street Journal that I have missed. Last Friday, I never thought I would eat lunch and read the paper through tears. But I did.

The little fellow raking leaves to the left is Simon Sparrow, who, tragically, passed away in April of 2004, at 17 months old, less than a day after his parents were even aware he was sick, from a sudden and deadly form of staph infection. From the Wall Street Journal:

What killed Simon Sparrow is a new form of an old foe: the staph infection. Identified as a lethal threat in 1999, this new strain is resistant to drugs and is highly virulent, responsible for 60% of all skin and soft-tissue infections treated in the nation's ERs. Infections can recur and ping-pong through families. The germ can penetrate bones and lungs, and the abscesses it causes often require surgery. In severe cases, up to a quarter of patients die.

Public-health officials see a silent epidemic on the rise. Almost 1% of the population, or more than two million people, carry drug-resistant staph without symptoms, according to an article in this month's Journal of Infectious Diseases by Matthew Kuehnert, a medical epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carriers can spread the disease and suddenly become acutely ill themselves. In a separate study based on data from 1999 and 2000, Dr. Kuehnert estimates there are 292,000 hospitalizations a year for staph, of which 126,000 are for the resistant kind.

So why am I sitting at lunch and tearing up over the newspaper. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The tragic loss of this sweet little boy strikes very close to my own heart. Our own 12 year old daughter Heather very likely had an early form of this very same infection about 11 years ago, when she was only 7 months old. Without a fast-acting doctor, and a wonderful hospital staff, I wonder what might have happened. We might still be living in the difficult places that the Sparrow family must face each day. I have prayed more than once for the Sparrows over the past couple of days, their loss must feel overwhelming. May God grant them courage and grace to face each day.

Heather woke up one September morning with a fever and acting very lethargic, and my wife Nancy noticed a red bump on her thigh. Something told Nancy she should get Heather into the pediatritian. That afternoon, my wife called from the doctor's office to say that our Heather was being admitted to the hospital immediately. I was shocked, but hurried to meet them in the pediatric admitting area. I remember holding a saggy, sweating, and feverish baby Heather in my arms in the admitting room, and silently praying to God for help, for guidance, and for healing. This was a real prayer, nothing pious, just a desperate plea for help. Help! For some odd reason, I knew in my soul this was the place God wanted me to be, right at this point in time. It was like standing at the edge of a cliff...

We were there for a week, through a hard fever, sleeping in the hospital, constant IV lines, surgery, and recovery. Friends and family came to visit, and Heather returned home after a week. The staph came back, in lesser forms, several times over the next several years, requiring more antibiotic shots. To this day, Heather does not like the doctor one bit. We are living proof that this disease is for real. I still, on occasion, have little boughts with this disease myself. Its lurking, in our own family.

This is indeed a mysterious journey, this life. Perhaps by calling attention to this, I might do a small amount of good.

For those of you with kids in the house, you need to look here to learn more.

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