BY CHRISTINE BRYANT
When 9-year-old Andrew Garcia began experiencing headaches and had difficulty keeping foods and liquids down, his grandmother and doctors thought he had a virus.
After all, raising him from birth and having a couple kids of her own, Teresa Harris had seen the flu and other viruses come and go.
But something wasn't right, she thought.
Following the advice of a family physician, Harris gave Garcia Tylenol to try to keep his fevers down and monitored him as he rested. But by the next day, his condition had grown worse.
"He was white as a ghost," the Portage resident said. "His lips were white. It was just scaring me too much. And it got to the point where he wasn't understanding me. He was looking through me." On April 30, Harris rushed the 9-year-old to Methodist Hospitals' Southlake emergency department, where doctors quickly realized something was in fact very wrong.
Suffering from some loss of motor control, Garcia's body also was covered in a rash.
"From the tip of his head to the bottom of his feet, he had a rash," Harris said. "The blood vessels were bursting in his skin."
Claudine Ruzga, a physician's assistant at the hospital, immediately recognized what Garcia was fighting - Acute Meningococcal Meningitis.
"The appearance of this distinctive rash, often one of the final symptoms of deadly septicemia, means immediate medical treatment is vital," she said.
Left untreated, the meningitis could lead to death within hours.
"Claudine noticed it right away," Harris said. "She looked at him, and you could tell on her face he was very serious. ... They said it was a life-threatening condition."
With no time to lose, Dr. Zahid Hassan, the on duty ER physician, and the hospital staff contacted a helicopter air support team, which flew to Methodist and transferred Garcia to the University of Chicago Comer Hospital.
"When Andrew was leaving on the helicopter, they thought he wasn't going to make it," Harris said.
Garcia remained in Chicago for five days where he received treatment for bacterial Meningitis. When he was able to go home, Garcia had to remain on an IV for 12 hours a day for the next 10 days.
The cause of his Meningitis may never be known, Harris said. Doctors explained it's a virus, and anyone could have carried it, she said.
Though Garcia has completely recovered from the Meningitis, Harris said the active 4th-grade student has bouts of feeling tired. But he doesn't waste a day - living life to the fullest and enjoying walks and playing with his friends.
"I am so thankful," Harris said. "Even to this day, it really gets to me. He's my grandson, but he's like my child. I've had him from day one. I'm thankful Miss Claudine saw the symptoms and they reacted quickly."
Diagnosis: Acute Meningococcal Meningitis
Symptoms: Fever, chills, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, rash, confusion, inability to completely extend the legs, stiffness in knees and hips, shock and seizures. Andrew Garcia had many of these symptoms, including the inability to extend his legs, causing him to have trouble walking, as well as fever and vomiting.
Details: Meningococcal meningitis is a severe infection of the bloodstream and meninges (a think lining covering the brain and spinal cord). If left untreated, a patient may die.