Aurora teen survives severe leg infection, which could have required amputation

by Mike Lesko | reporter Published:

Aurora -- Kendall Berryhill, who was finishing her junior year at Aurora High School, figured it would be a normal canoe trip down the Cuyahoga River as part of her position as a counselor for an Aurora schools' sixth-grade camp in May.

Little did Berryhill, 17, know that she would soon be battling to save her right leg following a cut and severe infection.

"If we hadn't caught it in time, she easily could have lost a leg," said her father, Bob Berryhill.

On May 17, the sixth-graders were canoeing at Camp Hi on the upper Cuyahoga River in Hiram Township. The canoe capsized and Berryhill received a puncture wound on her shin after she hit her leg on a tree. She was canoeing with two 12-year olds who were not injured. Her wound was wiped clean and a bandage put over it.

Later that day, her parents Bob and Mary decided to take her to the University Hospitals Emergency Clinic in Aurora, and three stitches were applied.

On May 18, the wound was red and started to swell. They returned to the emergency clinic for a shot of antibiotics.

That night, Berryhill went to the high school prom.

"I was dancing on my leg, but it wasn't as bad as before," she said, but the next day the redness and swelling got worse despite another trip to the emergency clinic.

"Kendall was in a lot of pain," her father said.

"We were pretty shocked it happened so quickly," his daughter added.

On May 20, the emergency clinic doctor sent Berryhill to Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. At one point, she said there were 12 doctors in her room at the same time.

"They were pretty concerned," she said.

Tests showed she had a bacteria called Aeromonas hydrophila that can cause what is commonly known as "flesh-eating" disease. Her father said a regimen of IV antibiotics were prescribed.

"IN THE EVENT the antibiotics did not kill the disease and affected tissues, the surgeons were prepared to open her leg and cut out the infected skin and muscle," he said.

Her father said the story is similar to that of Aimee Copeland, a Georgia woman who lost both hands and a leg to the disease in 2012.

"Fortunately for Kendall, the doctors cautiously believed the disease was contained, and the antibiotics were working to kill the disease," he said.

Berryhill continued to receive antibiotics in the hospital. She returned home May 29 and continues to receive antibiotics. It will continue for a couple of more weeks, her father said, but he noted June 6 he believes his daughter is on the road to recovery.

"It's a scary thing," she said. "What I had is extremely rare. One of the doctors said I won the award for the most interesting case. We were very blessed and lucky to be able to catch it when we did."

Berryhill has five siblings, including Bobby, 23; John, 21; Rebecca, 20; Sam, 13; and Brynn, 12.

"I've been canoing so many times," she said. "I'm glad it was me [rather than her two 12-year-old canoe mates]. I'm old enough to deal with it. They would have been freaking out."

Her father wants to spread the word that open wounds in any outdoor waterway have the possibility of introducing this disease into the body.

"Had we not been diligent with taking Kendall to the doctors for treatment right away, the story could have had a much worse outcome," he said.

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