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Boy’s skinned knee leads to rare staph infection, loss of both legs

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Beauden Baumkirchner’s parents, Juliana and Brian, say their boy has endured at least 18 surgeries. (Photo: Juliana Baumkirchner)

SAN DIEGO – Beauden Baumkirchner, 3, is finally out of the pediatric intensive care unit – about two months after he skinned his knee on vacation in San Diego.

In that time, he has been battling a rare and “vicious” bacteria that cost him both his legs. One of his doctors said it’s a “miracle” the boy is alive.

Beauden’s parents, Juliana and Brian Baumkirchner, have nearly lost track of the number of times their boy has gone under anesthesia – they said he has endured at least 18 surgeries since Oct. 5, when he fell off a bike and his condition rapidly deteriorated.

“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare when you’re completely helpless,” Brian told USA TODAY.

Beauden and his family were visiting California, on vacation from their home in Arizona, when the incident happened. 

Doctors don’t know where the staph bacteria that infected Beauden came from, Dr. John Bradley told USA TODAY. Bradley is the medical director of Rady Children’s Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases and was involved in Beauden’s treatment within days of the boy’s admission to the hospital.

That skinned knee acted as a portal for the toxin-laced bacteria, which despite showing up in lab tests as a “garden-variety staph,” caused an illness similar to toxic shock syndrome in Beauden. 

The day after the fall, the boy had a fever, was lethargic and holding his foot, his parents said. By the following day, he was having trouble breathing, and his fever hadn’t subsided. His knee and lip were swollen.

He went to the hospital for an X-ray, which turned into an MRI. By that point, his feet were freezing cold and his hands were clearly infected as well.

That’s when he went to the ICU, where he spent nearly two months, his parents said.

For days, he fought for his life. He was intubated for more than a week. His doctor and his parents called what happened next “a miracle.”

“He wasn’t supposed to make it,” Brian said.

Bradley explained that Beauden had entered shock – his body had shut down blood flow to his arms and legs as it battled a “vicious strain” of bacteria. The body did that to protect something more important, Bradley said: The “body’s defenses maintained blood flow to the brain.”

As a result, Beauden has had no neurological issues, Juliana said.

The infection that plagued Beauden is a troubling, complicated diagnosis.

When examined in a lab, it looks like MSSA – an easy-to-treat staph infection caused by bacteria commonly found on human skin, Bradley said. Further analysis shows it was laced with a toxin, something the bacteria could pick up by interacting with a virus or another bacteria.

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Bradley said it’s possible other people have been infected with the strain, so the hospital is looking out for any similar cases.

It’s also possible the strain of staph Beauden encountered is rare and not especially contagious. Similarly tragic one-off cases show up about once a year at his hospital, Bradley said.

Bradley praised Beauden’s parents for quickly seeking medical attention when they realized their boy needed help. Other parents who see a child’s condition rapidly worsening should do the same, he said.

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Beauden’s life will be forever altered by his battle with that rogue bacteria, but his parents credit the work of doctors and support from their community with saving his life. Strangers sent cards; the hospital arranged for fire trucks to brighten Beauden’s day; a GoFundMe has raised more than $150,000. 

Juliana said the hospital has been “phenomenal”: “Rady Children’s saved his life,” she said.

“As terrible of a year as 2020 has been … humanity has been the best in our eyes.”

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