The development follows the similar affliction of Georgia graduate student Aimee Copeland, who lost her left leg and might lose her fingers. But experts say the South Carolina case, though serious, is less severe than the Georgia one and caused by a different bacterium.
Lana Kuykendall, 36, gave birth to healthy twins at an Atlanta hospital last week. When the family returned to its home in Piedmont, the mother – who is also a paramedic – noticed a pain and rash on her left leg.
As the spot began to spread, Kuykendall went to a local hospital, where she has since undergone several surgeries but was improving Thursday.
“She’s stable,” Darren Kuykendall, the woman’s husband, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Greenville Memorial Hospital.
The condition is called necrotizing fasciitis, the same disorder that has Copeland fighting for her life at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center a couple hours away in Augusta. Doctors say Copeland, 24, has lost a leg and could lose all her fingers from the infection that spread days after she suffered a deep cut while zip-lining.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said Kuykendall’s case has its root in Group A streptococcus. The same bacteria can cause strep throat.
But when it finds an area of the body that has recently undergone a trauma – such as a cut or deep bruise, which Kuykendall might have experienced during the delivery of her twins – Group A strep can manifest itself into the flesh-eating disorder that has landed Kuykendall in the hospital, Schaffner said.
“It causes a lot of pain,” Schaffner said. “It can evade diagnosis for a period of time.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 9,000 and 11,500 cases of invasive Group A strep happen each year in the United States, resulting in upward of 1,000 deaths.
Not contagious, the bacterium is best treated by antibiotics and surgeries to remove dead tissue, which Schaffner said can spread so rapidly that doctors must go in multiple times to cut out more areas.
Kuykendall, who has been keeping vigil at the hospital, said he knows his wife will improve but is sad she has missed time bonding with their babies.
“The sad part about it is that she hasn’t gotten to see the babies for the first week of their lives,” Kuykendall told WYFF-TV. “I talk to her every day. I tell her how good she’s doing, and how strong she is, and that she’s a fighter. She can make it.”