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South Carolina woman 'very ill, but stable' with rare infection

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 6:00 PM EDT, Thu May 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lana Kuykendall has undergone five surgeries to remove dead flesh
  • Doctors have removed tissue from both legs
  • She was stricken soon after delivering healthy twins

(CNN) -- A South Carolina woman undergoing treatment for infection with a rare case of "flesh-eating" bacteria was in critical but stable condition Thursday at Greenville Memorial Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Lana Kuykendall, 36, "underwent her fifth debridement surgery to remove necrotic, or dead, tissue from her lower leg," said Sandy Dees, senior media relations coordinator for Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center, in a news release.

Kuykendall was admitted and diagnosed last Friday with necrotizing fasciitis, the release said.

A team of surgeons, critical-care physicians and infection disease specialists was monitoring her condition, which is typically managed by surgery, antibiotics and aggressive supportive care, it said.

"She remains very ill but stable," Dr. Bill Kelly, the hospital epidemiologist, said in the release.

Kuykendall was healthy when she gave birth to twins on May 7 in Atlanta but went to the hospital near her home in South Carolina a few days later after noticing a rapidly expanding bruise on her leg, her husband, Darren, told CNN on Wednesday. Doctors there removed dead skin and tissue from her legs and she was put on a ventilator, he said.

Kuykendall is a nurse and paramedic; her husband is a firefighter. The twins are healthy, he said.

A two-hour drive south of Greenville, in Augusta, Georgia, 24-year-old Aimee Copeland was battling similarly aggressive bacteria on Thursday. Doctors have amputated one of her legs and surgically removed part of her abdomen. Her father, Andy Copeland, told CNN on Wednesday that her fingers, too, will have to be amputated.

Still, "Aimee continues to be in good spirits," said a blog posted on the website of the Psychology Department at the University of West Georgia, where Aimee Copeland is a graduate student.

"Two major medical developments today for Aimee," it said. "Those will be announced later today once Andy has the opportunity to type them out. Stay tuned."

Copeland contracted the flesh-devouring bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila when she fell May 1 from a homemade zip line that broke and cut her leg. The gash required 22 staples. Days later, still in pain, she went to the Augusta hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with necrotizing fasciitis.

The psychology student is on a ventilator and has undergone a tracheotomy.

Flesh-eating bacteria explained

A number of bacteria can cause the condition, which attacks and destroys healthy tissue and is fatal about 20% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacteria are common in the environment but rarely cause an infection; when they do, the body's immune system is almost always able to fight them off, according to experts.

Occasionally, however, the bacteria find their way into the bloodstream -- either through a cut or an abrasion.

In such cases, doctors move aggressively, excising even healthy tissue near the infection site to ensure none of the dangerous bacteria remain.

Necrotizing fasciitis is rare. Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, estimated in a telephone interview on Wednesday that fewer than 250 cases occur each year in the United States, though such estimates are imprecise since doctors do not have to report the cases to health authorities.

CNN's Melissa Gray contributed to this report

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