Kindergartner loses leg after strep throat leads to dangerous infection

Ohio girl is recovering after surgery.

ByABC News
April 4, 2017, 4:42 PM

— -- An Ohio girl is recovering after a rare complication from strep throat led to a dangerous infection, which required amputation of one leg.

Tessa Puma, 6, was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, an infection by what is commonly called flesh-eating bacteria, which can spread quickly in the body. Her father, Matt Puma, said doctors believe the dangerous infection was caused by bacteria from her strep throat.

Tessa was diagnosed with strep throat earlier and took antibiotics. But when she was struck with the flu last week, her parents noticed she was complaining of pain in her arms and legs. They took her to two hospitals before doctors diagnosed an additional problem: necrotizing fasciitis.

"They did some more tests and confirmed she had the flu and saw she had some kind of infection," Puma said. "She spent a couple of days in the hospital, and her leg got worse and worse."

At one point, simply touching Tessa made her scream in pain. When doctors performed surgery to relieve swelling, they found extensive damage in her left leg as well as parts of her shoulder and back.

Necrotizing fasciitis can occur after bacteria from a strep or other bacterial infection migrates to the bloodstream and infects the fasciae, or membranes surrounding muscles and other internal organs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection can kill tissue as it spreads, causing serious complications that can require amputation or result in death.

In Tessa's case, doctors believe the strep bacteria migrated to her bloodstream, causing the dangerous infection. When doctors could no longer find a pulse in her leg, they concluded she likely had too much dead tissue. To help her heal, they amputated her left leg from the knee down.

Puma said the doctors told him, "If there was any kind of hope for her to live and survive, it's going to be best to amputate her leg."

Tessa is recovering at Akron Children's Hospital but will need further surgery and additional portions of her left leg removed to help her survive. But her father said that she has a strong will and that he believes she will eventually return to what she loves: dancing.

"She's very good-hearted," Puma told ABC News. "Whenever she puts her mind to something, she's very determined. This isn't going to set her back to her goals."