Abbie Metge rests in a hospital in Salt Lake City recently. Metge was diagnosed with a deadly bacteria that forced doctors to amputate her right leg earlier this month. (Submitted photo)
A phone call saved Michelle Metge’s daughter.
The 10-year-old was recovering from a tractor accident when circumstances turned for the worse earlier this month. The family, with long ties to Vale, now lives in Afton, Wyoming.
The injury happened Memorial Day weekend, when Abbie Metge was riding with her feet dangling over the bucket on a tractor. The tractor hit a bump, trapping and dragging Abbie’s legs along the ground.
Surgery for a large gash in one leg and a few days in a Wyoming hospital seemed to put the worst behind Abbie.
For the next week Abbie rested at home, her leg in a brace, and slowly began to mend.
“Everything was a little bit better each day,” said Michelle Metge.
Metge grew up in Vale where her father, Rex Saunders, taught at Vale Middle School for 21 years.
June 2 began as a routine day.
Abbie was resting in the living room with her leg propped up and iced. She was busy playing her PlayStation game and relaxing.
About noon, Michelle checked on her daughter and noticed her right foot looked swelled.
Michelle called her neighbor, a registered nurse, who advised her to press on Abbie’s toes and see how long it took for the color to come back.
“It was taking about 10 seconds,” said Michelle.
The nurse urged Michelle to call the hospital, where medical staff recommended Abbie be brought in.
Michelle believes that phone call was the difference between life and death for her daughter.
By the time of the call, a deadly and fast-moving bacterial infection known as necrotizing fasciitis was already gaining lethal strength in Abbie.
It is dubbed “flesh-eating bacteria” but an array of bacteria creates necrotizing fasciitis.
Public health officials believe group A streptococcus is the most common bacteria to spark necrotizing fasciitis and it commonly lives in the throat and on the skin.
Why some strains of A streptococcus mutate into a life-threatening infection isn’t totally clear.
Ever year about 600 to 700 people are diagnosed in the U.S. with necrotizing fasciitis and about one-third die.
At the Afton hospital, medical personnel determined Abbie was in serious trouble.
“We had no idea how rapidly it was spreading,” said Michelle.
By then Michelle said she could see the path of the infection spreading up her daughter’s leg.
“It is hard to sit and wait when you can see the red spreading,” said Michelle.
By mid-afternoon, Abbie was on her way by ambulance to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. She was immediately taken into surgery.
Michelle said she felt “pretty helpless.”
At about 9 p.m. a surgeon stepped out of the operating room with a prognosis.
They had to amputate Abbie’s right leg or her chances of survival were slim, the doctor said. The surgeon removed most of Abbie’s right leg.
After the surgery, the surgeon determined that the infection had spread and to save Abbie he was forced to remove the rest of her leg up to her hip.
Michelle said she and her husband Russ were shocked.
The operation proceeded, but Abbie’s situation remained dire.
The next two days would determine if she lived. Abbie endured two more procedures over the next few days as doctors checked to see if the wound was healing.
By early Wednesday, June 5, Abbie was in and out of consciousness, still attached to a breathing tube while doctors monitored redness in her groin area and a lingering fever.
Abbie would wake up and cry because the breathing tube made it difficult for her to talk, her mother recounted.
The mother and father decided to tell her about the amputation.
There was “initial shock and horror and hard-to-comprehend and heart-wrenching tears,” Michelle wrote on her Facebook page just after Abbie learned the news.
High and low points followed.
Once, Abbie awoke and told her mom with a smile “I only have to find one sock out of sock basket now.”
The bad times, though, lingered – a fever that would not fade, trouble breathing without oxygen and phantom pains.
Abbie’s brain still operated as if her right leg existed.
The morning of June 7, Abbie awoke and her nurse asked, “What is your main goal today?”
“Getting up in a wheel chair and outta here!” Abbie replied.
That was the first day of physical therapy. She was faced with learning how to balance, stand and use the bathroom.
One Sunday, Michelle left the hospital to sit in her car. She wept when she thought of her daughter.
A car pulled in and parked in front of Michelle. She looked up and spotted the license plate.
“Cheer up,” read the plate.
Despite the tears, Michelle smiled.
Last week the doctors treating Abbie determined her infection was under control.
Abbie was still hospitalized last week, continuing physical therapy.
She faces her new challenges with humor.
Michelle said when someone slipped and said “legs” to Abbie, her daughter laughed.
“Ha, you mean leg,” said Abbie.
A gofundme account has been set up for the Metge family and can be found online under the family name.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-473-3377.
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