At 11 years old, Jillena DeCarteret was a gymnast who was just as comfortable tumbling on the mat as she was walking down the street. So when she awoke one morning with a mystery pain attacking her shoulder, she was understandably frightened that her budding gymnastics career might be in jeopardy.
Her parents rushed her to a local hospital, where a MRI scan revealed that Jillena had acquired a particularly bad joint infection in her shoulder known as septic arthritis. Because of the infection’s severity, she was taken to Children’s Hospital Boston where further testing showed Jillena also was also suffering from Necrotizing fasciitis (NF), a flesh-eating disease. Soon after, a bright red rash broke out from her shoulder to wrist and began spreading to her chest. She was prepped for surgery, where a team led by Mininder Kocher, MD, MPH, associate director of Children’s Division of Sports Medicine, was waiting.
Over the next week Jillena underwent multiple debridements (surgical removal of infected tissue) all the way from her waist to her shoulder. The procedures were very touch and go at first, which was difficult for both Jillena and her med team.
“At first I was very worried she may die, then, when she was stable, I was scared she was going to lose her arm,” remembers Kocher. “Once we realized she’d keep the arm I was afraid that she would only have minimal function with it. But in the end it all went extremely well. I don’t think I slept a wink that week, but it was all worth it.” …