After a diagnosis of strep throat, this little girl’s dreams of becoming a dance instructor turned into a living nightmare. A routine course of antibiotics helped at first, but then her health deteriorated. And when her symptoms left her screaming with pain, her parents rushed her to hospital. It was then that doctors made a diagnosis of something rare and life-threatening.
Like many six-year-old girls, Tessa Puma loves to dance. From the age of four, she took regular classes at a dance studio in Northfield, Ohio, and her teacher soon saw her potential. Before long, Tessa became the youngest member of the studio’s competitions team.
In March 2017 Tessa was diagnosed as having strep throat, a common and usually harmless condition that affects people of all ages. Indeed, her dad and brother also had it at the same time. Tessa was given a course of antibiotics lasting ten days. Soon, she started to feel better.
But sadly, it wasn’t to last. At the end of March, Tessa contracted the flu. Her mom and dad grew particularly worried about her when she complained that her arms and legs were hurting. Not sure what was wrong, her parents took her to hospital for a diagnosis.
Doctors confirmed that Tessa did indeed have flu. But they also found something else wrong with her. They found an infection that they believed to be the cause of the pain in the little girl’s limbs. They admitted her to hospital where they could monitor her condition.
“She spent a couple of days in the hospital and her leg got worse and worse,” her dad Matt explained to ABC News in April 2017. The pain grew so severe that even touching Tessa would cause her to scream in pain. Then, doctors chose to operate in order to relieve a swelling that had flared up in her leg.
When doctors opened her up, they found severely damaged tissue in her leg, while parts of her back and shoulders were also affected. The cause of the problem was a deadly infection called necrotizing fasciitis, a fast-moving, flesh-eating bacteria.
Necrotizing fasciitis occurs when bacteria such as strep enters the blood. When it attacks the membranes surrounding internal organs and muscles, tissue starts to die as the infection spreads. Tessa was in grave danger.
Doctors believe that the bacteria from Tessa’s strep throat infection had entered the six-year-old’s bloodstream. It then traveled through her veins and attacked other areas of her body, causing her immense pain. Such infections can often be mild and easily treated. Tessa’s, however, was moving too fast.
The flesh-eating infection had reached Tessa’s shoulder, back and left arm. It was, however, her left leg which caused doctors the most concern. The bacteria had ravaged the majority of tissue and muscles below the knee, and now they had to take drastic action.
Indeed, doctors discovered that the tissue damage in Tessa’s left leg was so severe they could no longer locate a pulse. Specialists felt they had no other choice: they would have to amputate. They would remove the young dancer’s leg from below the knee.
“If there was any kind of hope for her to live and survive, it’s going to be best to amputate her leg,” Matt revealed to ABC News. Doctors believed that the best way for Tessa to fight the infection in the rest of her body would be to remove the most infected part: her left leg.
Fears then grew when a red spot appeared on her right leg. With no technology available to check for the infection’s spread – the only way to identify it is to operate – doctors kept a close watch on the blemish. Marking it on the surface of her skin and watching for growth, the family waited anxiously.
Fortunately, however, the blemish was a false alarm. Tessa’s right leg would not have to be amputated. According to a Facebook post made by Tessa’s mom, Tina, the six-year-old’s leg was removed on April 3, 2017. The surgery was a huge success and she was surrounded by her whole family.
Tessa is still in hospital and it’s expected that she will remain there for many months. Further surgeries to her leg will be required, including skin grafts for areas affected by the infection, to help get it ready for a prosthetic. Sadly, it seems the little girl’s dancing days are over. Or are they?
Stacy Kopec, Tessa’s dance teacher who described the six-year-old as “a superstar,” who was “born to dance,” was floored by the news. In April 2017 she told Fox8, “In the 28 years that I’ve been teaching dance, this is the most devastating thing that we’ve had to go through. I love her.”
The instructor’s feelings have been echoed by the entire Northfield community. Throughout the neighborhood, school friends and well-wishers have been wearing pink in the dancer’s honor. In addition, several charity events have been organized to raise funds for Tessa’s hospital care.
Furthermore, a YouCaring page is raising money for her ongoing recovery. The page states, “Please keep cheering her on. As we embark on what will be a long journey we ask that, if you are able to, please contribute to the care of our little fighter.”
Despite the long road in front of her, Tessa’s family are hopeful that the six-year-old will dance another day. Matt told ABC News, “She’s very good-hearted. Whenever she puts her mind to something, she’s very determined. This isn’t going to set her back.”
Tessa’s mom, too, doesn’t think this is the end of the road for her little girl’s dancing dreams. Talking to the Akron Beacon Journal in April 2017, Tina said, “She will still be able to do her dreams because she’s a determined little girl who never gives up on anything she puts her mind to. We think this is just going to be part of her story.”