Girl Survives Deadly Medicine-Resistant Fungal Infection

Teen with leukemia holds on for life while doctors experiment on treatment.

ByABC News
November 17, 2010, 5:19 PM

Nov. 18, 2010— -- Sierra King, 16, of Kansas City, Mo., finished the book "My Sister's Keeper" in a single week in August 2009 and jotted it down as one of her favorites.

The bestselling fiction book by Jodi Picoult -- which later became a hit movie -- follows a young girl who battles leukemia and the difficult decisions her family had to make, and sometimes had no choice in making, to keep her alive.

Just a week after finishing the book, Sierra herself was diagnosed with leukemia.

"It was so weird to me," said Sierra.

Sierra's father, Walter King, 59, took her to the hospital because they thought she was coming down with the flu. But hospital tests revealed Sierra's white blood cell count was dangerously low and doctors diagnosed Sierra with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"It was right out of the blue," said Walter King, who was so overtaken by news of the diagnosis, he quit his job to stay with his daughter.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common type of blood cancer in children and has more than a 90 percent survival rate if treated early, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. So doctors immediately began chemotherapy.

"We thought she could definitely beat it," said Walter King. "We were optimistic."

Within three weeks, Sierra was in remission. But, her fever persisted and she noticed abnormal bleeding.

"I had some spots on my legs too, so they [the doctors] did biopsies on that," said Sierra.

While Sierra made strides to treat the leukemia, she contracted a fungal infection that spread to her blood system and sinuses.

"We kind of thought that cancer was bad, but we knew it treatable," said Sierra. "But the fungal infection, it was so much more than we ever expected to deal with."

Infections are common among many leukemia patients, because chemotherapy weakens the immune system. But Sierra contracted a rare form of fungus called fusarium, which was resistant to all forms of medications normally used to treat an infection.