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Greenville teen fighting rare toxic shock syndrome | News

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Greenville teen fighting rare toxic shock syndrome
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- The family of a Greenville teenager wants others to be aware of the rare disease that almost took their daughter's life.

Rylie Whitten, 15, has one of the worst cases of toxic shock syndrome that doctors in West Michigan have ever seen. It's a condition that affects primarily young women -- but because it starts as a staph infection, anyone can get it.

For the Whitten family, it happened just after the holidays on Jan. 4.  Rylie was anxious to get back to school. Her father, Nate, says she didn't feel well, which was unusual.  "She's young, healthy, never had any medical problems whatsoever."

Nate and Rylie's mother, Jill, kept her home from school that Monday and Tuesday. "She was lying in bed," Nate said. "All the sudden, she was moaning. This is not Rylie at all."

That night, they took her to an emergency room in Greenville.  Rylie didn't have the flu or meningitis; the tests revealed something more alarming, Nate said. "Probably within 10 to 15 minutes of blood work, we found out Aero Med has been dispatched to Greenville and she will be transported down here," referring to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids.

There, Rylie was taken to the pediatric intensive care unit.  Dr. Surender Rajasekaran took over her case.

"So, you have the cardiovascular system failing, lungs failing, so it's pretty serious; in her case, it was very serious," said Dr. Rajasekaran.

Rylie was put on life support.  She had a severe infection that led to toxic shock syndrome.

Dr. Daliya Khuon specializes in infectious diseases and says TSS is rare. "The general incidence in this country is one in 100,000. It’s rare," she said.

TSS is typically caused by the use of super-absorbent tampons. It was prevalent in the 1980s and led to several products being taken off the market. Today, warnings are written on literature inside the box.

"The number of hours you have a tampon in and the number of days you've used tampons is associated with increased risk,” said Dr. Khuon.

The number of TSS cases has decreased over the past 20 years. Doctors here in West Michigan still see a few cases each year, but generally not this bad.

At the children's hospital, Dr. Rajasekaran asked the family to put Rylie's picture up in her room. "I think nurses and staff forget there is a child that was outside this ICU," he said. "I like a picture to remind everybody this is what we're fighting for, to get her back to that.”

An effort is also going on outside the hospital.  As you look around the community of Greenville, there are “Pray for Rylie” messages on businesses. Friends are raising money and holding candlelight vigils at her church.

"It's going to bring tears to my eyes right now," Nate said, describing that support movement. "You drive through, and the amount of community support -- that is so awesome."

The Whitten family credits those prayers and the doctors for Rylie's recovery.  As she continues to heal, the family wants to educate others about TSS. “I do not wish this on anyone in the world," said Nate. "If we could do something somehow, Rylie would want to do that to get this out there."

Rylie is slowly being taken off life support. She's still in the PICU, but seems to be getting better each day.

Learn more about TSS at this link.

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