GERING, Neb. — Medication for a simple sinus infection triggered a rare and frightening reaction in a Gering basketball player.
In early February, Gering junior Taylor Nelson was diagnosed with a sinus infection and given a prescription for Zithromax. Nelson had taken the medication previously. But while he and his family were in North Platte for basketball games, he noticed strange sores all over his mouth.
The family quickly returned to Scottsbluff. Mom Holli Nelson drove Taylor directly to their doctor's office, where he was told to watch to see if the sores got worse. Holli Nelson said that by the end of the night, they were in the emergency room at Regional West Medical Center.
Dr. Troy Dean diagnosed Taylor with a rare disease — Stevens-Johnson syndrome — that was attacking his mucous membranes because of an adverse reaction to the antibiotics he was taking.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a rare, serious disorder in which skin and mucous membranes react severely to a medication or infection. Stevens-Johnson syndrome starts with flulike symptoms, followed by a painful red or purplish rash that spreads and blisters, causing the top layer of skin to die and shed.
Taylor was moved to the hospital's intensive care unit, but his condition worsened. Within a few days, his throat was closing, and the disease was spreading inside his body.
“His type of Stevens-Johnson syndrome ... can attack the mucous membranes or the skin,” Nelson said. “It basically went from the top of his eyes to the bottom of his lungs and anything in between.”
Nelson said the hospital considered transferring Taylor to Children's Hospital in Denver, but its ICU was full of influenza patients, and Taylor was not stable enough to be moved.
“His throat began to close because of swelling, and they were going to intubate him and put a breathing tube down his throat, and then they would have flown him to a different hospital,” his mother said. “The doctors' fear was that his immune system was so low that they did not want to risk him picking up something else from another hospital.”
Dr. Brandon Taylor at Regional West kept in contact with the head doctor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital about the case. Dr. Taylor told Holli Nelson that they had only seen one case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome before.
“Dr. Taylor ... assured us that if it ever got to where he felt where he was losing control of it and couldn't handle it that he would for sure get us out of here,” Nelson said.
Taylor was in the hospital for seven days and in the ICU for all but one day. Holli said he was treated with IV fluids with pain medications, eye drops, breathing treatments and a nebulizer. A machine measured his air intake. He couldn't have antibiotics.
For most of his stay, only his parents could visit because Taylor's immune system was at zero.
Taylor Nelson, who lost about 26 pounds during the ordeal, is still recovering. Doctors told the family it will take two to six months for a full recovery.
Taylor said he doesn't remember everything that happened but recalled fearing the worst.
“I was pretty scared. I don't remember much — it was all a blur and it was pretty frightening,” he said.
His mother said she hopes no one else has to go through the same terrifying experience.
“To know that your 17-year-old son is playing basketball on a Thursday and then fighting for his life on a Friday to keep this disease from killing him, we absolutely don't take anything for granted now,” Holli Nelson said. “That's for certain.”