Teen's hands, feet amputated after 'flu-like symptoms'

A Tennessee family recently had to make the difficult decision to amputate their 14-year-old son's hands and feet to save his life after what started as "flu-like symptoms" in mid-June.

Mathias Uribe visited a doctor for treatment twice after he began experiencing symptoms, and on June 30, he was transferred to an emergency room when "his heart stopped" and he "went into cardiac arrest," his family wrote in a GoFundMe description titled "#MiracleForMathias."

"He needed life-saving support and was flown to two different hospitals. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome," the family wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS) as "a rare, but serious bacterial infection" that typically begins with flu-like symptoms. The uncommon infection, sometimes caused by the flu or bacteria that enters an open wound, can result in "low blood pressure, multiple organ failure, and even death."

PHOTO: Liberty Creek Middle School's Facebook page

PHOTO: Liberty Creek Middle School's Facebook page

Uribe was put on life support in the ICU at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee.

"[W]e were told he was the sickest child admitted at the time," his family wrote in the GoFundMe description.

On July 12, Uribe's heart and lungs began showing signs of improvement, and he was taken off life support. 

"It is extremely hard for us to explain the ups and downs we have felt in the last few weeks. Our brilliant, 14-year-old son is a fighter," his family wrote. "Our son has always been a happy, tender, loving boy, who touches the heart of everyone around him. At school, he has always excelled, and his teachers always have nothing but praise for his work ethic and eagerness to learn and go above and beyond both inside and outside the classroom."

They continued to describe Uribe as "an athlete" on his school's cross-country team, and "an avid soccer, football and basketball fan" who "has been working extremely hard to reach his goal of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the goal of making an impact in the world."

After 20 days of treatment in July, doctors told Uribe's family that while his organs had been saved, "his extremities did not receive enough blood flow," and his left leg would have to be amputated in order to save his life.

By Aug. 1, doctors amputated Uribe's left leg above the knee, his right leg below the knee and both of his hands above his wrists.

Dr. Katie Boyle at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who led Uribe's medical care team and attempted to save as much of the 14-year-old boy's limbs as she could, told local outlet WSMV that his condition is "very rare."

"Sometimes when you get the flu, it does set you up for a bacterial infection. But even then, most kids don’t get nearly as sick as Mathias did," she told the outlet.

A May 2023 letter to the editor published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal noted two other recent cases of children — including a 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy — diagnosed with STSS following an infection from influenza, or the flu.

"As you can imagine, this news has left us all feeling a whirlwind of emotions. We find solace in knowing that this decision was made after careful consideration and consultation with medical professionals who have his best interests at heart," the Uribe family wrote. "While it is undoubtedly a challenging road ahead, we firmly believe that this surgery will pave the way for a brighter future for our son."

They added that the 14-year-old continues to show "strength and resilience" and "unwavering courage."

"We are in awe of his unwavering spirit and determination, which will undoubtedly guide him through the challenges that lie ahead," his family wrote.

The Uribes are asking for "support, love, and prayers" as their son recovers from his "life-changing surgery." They also thanked their son's medical team for guiding them through his procedures and recovery. 

"While we may not fully understand the reasons behind life's trials, we firmly believe that there is always a silver lining. The center of our family is God, we know that while walking in the deepest waters, we have always known that God is with us," they wrote. "We have faith that this surgery will open new doors for our son allowing him to embrace life's possibilities with renewed vigor and determination."

Uribe's future recovery will include prosthetic limbs, therapy and medical interventions, according to the GoFundMe.

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