Mom: 1-year-old survivor of flesh-eating bacteria ‘raring to go’

KAPA‘A — Kellen Nitta, 1, after overcoming a battle with necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria, is back home and ready to play ball.

During the Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation boys volleyball games under way at Bernice Hundley Gym in Kapa‘a on Tuesday night, Kellen kept squirming in his mother’s arms.

“He wants the ball,” Erin Nitta, Kellen’s mom, said. “We just got home last night, and he’s raring to go.”

Kellen had spent nearly a month at the Kapi‘olani Women’s and Children’s Hospital on O‘ahu. He was the second Kaua‘i victim after John Stem, 49, of Lihu‘e was diagnosed with the bacteria in March.

“We still have extensive therapy and a lot of checkups ahead of us,” said Nitta, whose parents, Kellen’s grandparents, are officials with the KIF volleyball program. Nitta is the Po‘okela Volleyball Club coach, so Kellen has been a familiar figure near the scorer’s table.

Now that he’s back home,  “a lot of the checkups and therapy will be done at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihu‘e,” his mom said. “But there will be trips we have to make to O‘ahu for some of the checkups and therapy.”

Nitta said the doctors told her and her husband Ken how lucky they were with Kellen.

“A couple of hours more would have been a lot more serious,” she said. “The disease started on the lower part of his arm. We noticed it about 9 a.m. and by 6:30 p.m., it had spread up his arm and was encroaching into his chest area.”

When they brought Kellen to Wilcox Hospital on March 11, the staff did a lot of tests but could not determine what was wrong with him.

“Kellen had a 105-degree fever and excessive swelling on his arm when we brought him in,” his mother said. “They Medivac-ed us to O‘ahu, where he went directly into the operating room after the hospital did an MRI and determined it was the flesh-eating bacteria.”

Nitta thinks Kellen contacted the streptoccus pyogenes bacteria, which causes the flesh-eating bacteria, through ingestion.

“He had no abrasions or open wounds, so he must have ingested it somehow,” she said. “The bacteria settled in his arm, and that’s where it started.”

Nitta said the doctors told her if the infection had reached his chest area, it would have made matters a lot more complicated.

Kellen’s initial operation was a lateral one along his arm, but it did not stop there.

“During the recovery, the doctors noticed the swelling had returned, necessitating another series of incisions along the original operation to clean out whatever bacteria was remaining  two weeks following the first surgery,” Nitta  said.

“Luckily, everything is gone, and now Kellen has to wear a compression sleeve to help the wounds heal properly. The therapeutic program he has to undergo will help with the stiffness and hopefully everything will work. If it doesn’t, he will have to undergo more operations,” she said.

To help with the mounting medical expenses, Nitta said one of the Po‘okela parents suggested starting a fund to help Kellen’s family, but there is nothing definite yet.

“Kellen just spent his first birthday at Kapi‘olani,” Erin said. “His birthday was on April 2, and the nurses all gathered and spent time with him in a little party, but we’re really happy to be back home.”

Nitta said they are so fortunate the bacteria has been controlled.

“He’s a real fighter,” she said, back in the comfort of the familiar volleyball court. “He just wants the ball.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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