Greenville student placed on life support after suffering toxic shock syndrome

Posted at 11:03 PM, Jan 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 23:03:17-05

GREENVILLE, Mich. -- Rylie Whitten is a cheerleader, a dancer and talented musician who was living a normal teenage life until about two weeks ago, when her life took on a drastic change. The 15-year-old Greenville student is on the road to recovery after spending the past two weeks on life support after suffering from the rare infection, toxic shock syndrome.

Rylie's symptoms began January 3 with body-aches and flu-like symptoms. She stayed home from Greenville High School for the next two days as her flu-like body aches continued.

As hours passed, the pain got worse, and Rylie's organs started shutting down. Whitten was rushed via Aero Med to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, where she was placed on life support.

On Wednesday, Whitten's father told FOX 17 he wasn't sure if she'd make it out alive. "She was close several times to not being here anymore," Nathan Whitten said.

A father's worst nightmare.

"It’s real, real, scary stuff," he said.

Early on, Rylie's organs weren't working properly and Rylie was running out of time. "Lungs were stopping, filling up with fluid, heart was in trouble ... Yeah, it was that quick. It just attacks and shuts you down," Nathan Whitten said.

Doctors say all of that was caused by TSS, a bacterial infection caused by heavy tampon use in younger women. According to experts, bacteria can grow during a woman's menstrual cycle, particularly with tampon use. Those toxins can then seep into the bloodstream and travel to different organs.

“She is definitely the sickest toxic shock syndrome patient I have ever taken care of,” said Dr. Surender Rajasekaran, a pediatric intensive care physician at Spectrum Health.

Doctors say TSS is extremely rare, affecting only one in every 100,000 U.S women. Riley was one of those unfortunate few.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a spike in TSS cases in the 1980s linked to high-absorbency tampons. Since that time, labels and inserts have been placed inside feminine hygiene products warning consumers about the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

Whitten says his daughter is finally off of life support and is finally talking and down to only one IV, but she is still suffering with pneumonia.

Doctors say they're not sure how long Riley will stay at Helon Devos Children's Hospital, but say she will likely be transferred to Mary Free Bed for rehab and physical therapy.

To minimize the risk of toxic shock syndrome, Daliya Khuon, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, from Spectrum Health offers several suggestions:

  • Wash your hands before using a tampon.
  • Use a tampon with the lowest absorbency for your needs. Stay away from high-absorbency tampons unless you have a very heavy flow.
  • Keep a tampon in place for just a few hours. Change them frequently.

GoFundMe page has been set up for Rylie.

The story has recently gone viral with Cosmopolitan, Today, and the Daily Mail picking it up.