After being told she had just a week to live, a 19-year-old Southern California woman is back home with her family Thursday – eight months after meningitis took her limbs.
What Kaitlyn Dobrow thought was the flu turned out to be meningococcal meningitis, a bacterium that could only be stopped by amputating both her arms and legs.
NBC4 first interviewed Kaitlyn when she was in the intensive care unit at UC Irvine Medical Center. She had already undergone 20 surgeries, but was determined to beat the disease.
“I don’t want to rely on anybody,” the teenager said at the time.
That determination and faith is what brought her home to her loved ones – and her beloved dogs.
“You get to the point where you have no control. You know it’s in His hands you have to trust Him and we’re able to do that,” mother Kathi Dobrow said.
Kaitlyn returned home Thursday to a converted dining room – big enough to once seat 12 people, it’s now freshly painted pink and specially tailored for Kaitlyn’s new needs.
“Eventually I’ll be able to do anything,” Kaitlyn said. “I’ve already been fitted for my prosthetic and legs.”
It’s unclear how Kaitlyn contracted meningitis, but it’s usually spread through saliva. Whether from a shared drink or otherwise, Kaitlyn’s father said the life-threatening ordeal could have been avoided.
“You can be inoculated as early as 11, and again later and you’re home free,” he said.
The bacteria -- Neisseria meningitidis -- that causes the bloodstream infection afflicting Kaitlyn also causes meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of tissue around the brain and spinal cord, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It can have severe health impacts and can progress quickly from flu-like symptoms, rashes and a stiff neck, so health officials say early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
Infections from the bacteria can be spread from person to person through respiratory and throat secretions and are common in close quarters -- such as military barracks and college dormitories -- according to the CDC website. Person-to-person contact must be close – such as kissing or sharing food – for the bacteria to spread.
Those who have been in close contact with a patient with meningococcal disease should be treated with antibiotics to prevent the illness from progressing, according to the CDC.
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