Toddler contracts rare, deadly disease after falling onto park bleachers in Hilo

Toddler contracts rare, deadly disease after falling onto park bleachers in Hilo

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island girl nearly died last month when she contracted tetanus after falling onto a set of bleachers at a Hilo-area sports complex.

The girl’s mother admits she used to be on the fence about vaccinating her children. Now, she’s urging other parents not to make the same mistake.

“I would not want that to happen to any child, because of what we had to go through,” said Natasha Gourlay.

It all started with a trip to Francis Wong Stadium. The toddler was attending a baseball game when Gourlay said she tripped on some old wooden bleachers and cut her mouth open.

Doctors say the two-year-old contracted tetanus from a small cut inside her mouth after taking a fall on some old bleachers.
Doctors say the two-year-old contracted tetanus from a small cut inside her mouth after taking a fall on some old bleachers.

The fall caused the girl’s front tooth to shift, so they rushed her to the dentist. She got checked out ― and in the days that followed the accident, everything seemed fine.

“There was no infection, no signs of redness or swelling,” said Gourlay. “Probably about three weeks after the initial fall, we were noticing while we were eating she wasn’t able to open her mouth all the way.”

Within 48 hours, the toddler had lockjaw and was suffering from severe spasms. She was flown to Oahu and placed in intensive care.

Doctors diagnosed her with tetanus.

“Tetanus is a little spore that lives in the soil. It’s pretty much present everywhere, and when that spore gets into an open wound, it effects the nerves,” said Dr. Jessica Kosut.

The deadly condition is very rare. Because it can be prevented with a vaccine, there are only about 50 cases reported in the United States each year.

Recovery can take weeks.

Doctors had to administer a feeding tube because lockjaw prevented the little girl from opening her mouth.
Doctors had to administer a feeding tube because lockjaw prevented the little girl from opening her mouth.

“She didn’t have control over the muscles in her jaw,” said Dr. Kosut. “She was always talking through almost clinched teeth.”

The toddler spent two weeks in the hospital before doctors removed her feeding tube and she was well enough to go home.

Prior to this experience, Gourlay says she had always been unsure about vaccinating her children.

“I was told an extreme. Then I was told the other side," she said. "As a young mother, I didn’t know what to do. I was scared.”

Her daughter’s experience with tetanus has clearly changed her views on the subject.

“Going through what we went through, I would have done things differently because it was preventable,” said Gourlay.

Doctors advise people to get a tetanus shot about once every 10 years.

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