Race With a Killer

A Dallas doctor believes he holds a miracle treatment for a disease that maims and kills children. Proving it will take another miracle.

"I took and raised the sleeve of her shirt, and she cringed. It looked like someone took two fingernails and clawed...her arm. I was thinking, 'What is that?' And then I took and moved the shirt off of her shoulder. I pulled the shirt down off of her shoulder, and on her shoulder she had what looked like a silver dollar," she says. "What it looked like to me or reminded me of was like she had fallen on concrete and skinned it. It was scabbed over. I was thinking, 'What is this?'"

Brock had seen Harley in a bathing suit the day before, and she hadn't noticed anything on her skin like the bruises. She called her sister, a paramedic. The sister said she needed to get Harley to an emergency room.

"I walked back over to Harley and her lips were starting to turn blue," Brock says. "I called 911."

Dr. Brett Giroir, chief medical officer at Children's 
Medical Center of Dallas, believes Neuprex can save 
lives and limbs. Proving that to regulators has so far 
been impossible.
Mark Graham
Dr. Brett Giroir, chief medical officer at Children's Medical Center of Dallas, believes Neuprex can save lives and limbs. Proving that to regulators has so far been impossible.
Tashica Jimmerson's recovery after she became the 
first person to receive Neuprex for meningococcal 
sepsis was so remarkable that she made the cover of 
manufacturer XOMA's annual report in 1995. Even 
with treatment, Jimmerson lost parts of her fingers to 
the illness, but her mother, Connie, shown at left with 
her daughter, is convinced the drug helped spare her 
life.
Mark Graham
Tashica Jimmerson's recovery after she became the first person to receive Neuprex for meningococcal sepsis was so remarkable that she made the cover of manufacturer XOMA's annual report in 1995. Even with treatment, Jimmerson lost parts of her fingers to the illness, but her mother, Connie, shown at left with her daughter, is convinced the drug helped spare her life.

Once she arrived at the local hospital, doctors started Harley on antibiotics. They quickly decided to get her to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Brock says. They wanted to send her by a helicopter ambulance, but none was available, Brock says. So, they sent her by ambulance. Donna and Earl Brock followed.

"When the ambulance left, they were doing the speed limit. Then they got to where they were going 60, 65, 70, 75, 80. We were doing almost 100 before we got there," she says. "My son was in the ambulance. He saw them mashing on her stomach."

They got to the hospital and went to the back of the ambulance, but the attendants would not let them near it, she says. One of them put his hand on the back of the ambulance door so they couldn't open it, she says.

"It seemed like forever before they really opened the ambulance, and then when they opened it and pulled her out, she was hemorrhaging from the nose, the mouth; I mean, she just had blood everywhere," Brock says, pausing. "The only thing I remember after seeing her was I remember them telling the hospital that they had a code blue. That meant she was dead on arrival."

She was close to it. The purplish "rashes" and bruises from the destruction of blood vessels now seemed to cover her entire body. As meningococcal sepsis took over, doctors treated her with drugs designed to keep her vital organs from shutting down.

Harley spent two weeks in a coma and on life support and about three months in the hospital. Relatives watched as Harley's body changed in her struggle to live.

"In the beginning, both hands were black. Both feet were black, and I'm not talking just feet. It went almost to her knees. She swelled up so big that her ears started folding out," Brock says, pushing her ears outward to demonstrate. "You couldn't even tell she had a neck. She was on life support. She had these lesions everywhere."

When she was finally released, Harley's hearing was badly damaged, and her hands and feet were black. "When she came home, these fingers were totally shriveled," Brock says, raising her hands. "They looked like a prune.

"Her left foot was totally black. It felt like ceramic," she says, rapping her knuckles on the table to produce what she says sounds the same as knocking on the blackened foot.

Before amputating, doctors wanted to wait to see if any of her extremities would regain blood circulation, so they sent Harley home with her ruined foot still attached, Brock says.

"The doctor said, 'Are you prepared? You may be home putting her sock on and her foot might fall off in your hand.' How do you prepare yourself for something like that? The tip of her thumb fell off in my sister's hand and she about had a heart attack," she says.

"But it was sad after they amputated...I just couldn't tell her you don't have a foot. Of course, she didn't realize because she had a bandage," she says. "My sister was back there when they undid the bandages. My sister said Harley looked at her and said, 'They cut my foot off'...It just killed her when she said that."

The doctors did all they could with the treatments they had available. But, as Harley clearly proves, even those who survive the horrible disease can suffer its effects forever. Harley is not the same as she was before being stricken.

Now 6 years old, she is without her left foot and wears a prosthetic to school. She lost the tips of her first two toes on her right foot and three fingers. She wears hearing aids because her hearing, while at about 80 percent, is not complete. She was held back in kindergarten because she has a speech impediment now, Brock says. She has large, burnlike scars on her skin in places where Donna and Earl first saw what they thought was bruising on that afternoon three years ago. Besides all that, she still faces surgeries to correct problems with scarred bone growth plates. Her outcome is one that is considered relatively good for a patient who did not receive Neuprex.

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