Lake bacteria leaves boy fighting for life

June 30, 2009 6:47:47 AM PDT
Doctors at UNC Hospitals are fighting to stop an infection caused by a common bacteria found in lakes before it spreads through the body of a 14-year-old Cumberland County boy.Matthew McKinney was taken to UNC Children's Hospital to be treated for the bacterial infection that he may have picked up while swimming in Hope Mills Lake on June 14.

"It's not every day a doctor says, 'your son's dying, we're going to try to save his life,'" Matthew's father, Brian McKinney, said in an interview with Eyewitness News Wednesday.

McKinney said doctors had to remove part of his son's nose, half of the palette in his mouth and five teeth.

"I just can't imagine. It's like something in the movies. It's a nightmare," he said. "I just can't imagine not having a roof to your mouth and bless his heart, he doesn't know this is happening."

The teen is still in critical condition, but his father said he is doing a little bit better. Tests have showed the bacteria may be making its way out of his bloodstream. However, he's not yet out in the clear.

The bacteria called Chromobacterium Violaceum that Matthew contracted is common in the sand and mud at the bottom of lakes, ponds and rivers across the state. The CDC said there has been fewer than 150 cases around the world between 1927 and 2005.

"It's everywhere. It's natural. It's in the environment," McKinney said. "The reason it's so rare is typically [it] doesn't affect you."

Officials said it was still unclear how the teen caught the infection, but said they believed the teen may have picked it up through an open wound.

However, his father said he didn't think his son had any cuts. So, doctors tested Matthew to see if he might have had a prior autoimmune deficiency that left him vulnerable.

McKinney said his son and his friends were diving under water, rooting up rocks lodged in the lake floor where the bacteria lives.

"The biggest thing the doctor said was don't go digging in the mud," McKinney said.

Health officials have not closed Hope Mills Lake - nor issued a health warning - but they are advising swimmers not to drink the water. They also say it's a good idea to use soap and shower off after swimming, immediately clean and treat any cut or wound, and seek a doctor's care if a cut or scratch gets infected.

If you would like to help McKinney contact the Cumberland United Methodist Church at (910)425-5356.


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