It’s been almost a month since Kayla Dunham’s two-year-old son Grayson died after what was initially thought to be “a little bug.”
“Our sweet, handsome, smart, outgoing, little boy was taken from us too soon for reasons we will never understand,” the 25-year-old Indiana mom, who’s pregnant with her second child, wrote on Facebook shortly after her firstborn’s death.
The first sign something was wrong with her toddler came the morning of Aug. 10, when he began to vomit and experienced diarrhea.
The family had recently visited a petting zoo, state fair and restaurant. But doctors couldn’t pinpoint a cause, despite a battery of tests that included chest and stomach X-rays and ultrasounds.
They reportedly first said it was the stomach flu. Then they said it seemed his intestines had folded over themselves. An appendix problem was also considered to be the culprit.
All the while, the boy’s symptoms worsened and his pain grew.
“We were misdiagnosed five times before they said, ‘yes this is HUS,'” Dunham told TODAY.
What is HUS?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is sometimes referred to as “Hamburger Disease,” according to The Kidney Foundation of Canada.
“It poses a substantial threat to Canadian children as one of the leading causes of both acute and chronic kidney failure,” the organization warns on its site.
HUS often follows a gastrointestinal illness caused by a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria. While most strains of E. coli are pretty harmless — and can even be found in our guts, for instance — the 0157:H7 strain is known to cause permanent damage to kidneys and the liver.
It was responsible for the tragic outbreak in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000, in which 2,500 people fell ill and seven died. That outbreak was caused by run-off from farm fields that made its way into the water supply.
Because it’s a bacteria that lives in guts, E. coli usually signals the presence of fecal contamination of some sort.
Although everyone is susceptible to E. coli infection, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, the elderly and young children are most at risk for developing serious complications from it.
(You can find more information on safe cooking practices that can help prevent HUS here.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States says antibiotics shouldn’t be used to treat these infections because they may increase the risk of HUS. The preferred treatment is rehydration.
‘This wasn’t supposed to happen’
Dunham said doctors did try to rehydrate her son. It appears to have been too little and too late, though.
As he awaited surgery and dialysis, Grayson’s heart seemingly gave out on him. Twenty-some doctors reportedly performed CPR on him for close to two hours in a desperate effort to save him, Dunham wrote.
“They did every single thing they possibly could to try to get our baby boy back to where he needed to be.”
In the end, her son’s bacterial infection proved to be “just too severe.”
“My heart is in shock, I’m numb, and I don’t have words for what even happened. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
She shared her story in the hope that it might help other parents. And as hard as it is, the grieving mom is trying her best to stay strong for the child she’s still carrying.
Her baby girl is due in January and will be named Graysie, after the brother she never got to meet.
— With files from The Canadian Press