Cody Strickland, a 21 year old electrician who loved the outdoors has had poison ivy several times. The most recent occurrence of the annoying rash happened in early February when he attended a bonfire party at Lake Pat Cleburne. Generally this rash is easy to take care of with over the counter topical treatments or a few doses of medication at the hospital. Mr. Strickland went the hospital route the day after he became affected.
Within a few days the rash hadn’t gone away and had in fact turned into blisters and a spreading redness. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital by ambulance, where he fell into a coma. For three weeks, the last 3 weeks of Cody Strickland’s life; were spent in a burn unit with sheets of skin sliding from his body.
Mr. Strickland’s father James Strickland was holding a death certificate for his son featuring the name of a disease he hadn’t even heard of one month before. Mr. Strickland said “I just can’t explain it. I don’t know how I’m dealing with it. He got Stevens-Johnson syndrome. That’s what is says on the death certificate.” The explanation is that poison ivy didn’t kill Cody Strickland, the medicine killed him.
Stevens-Johnson syndrome is known as the bomb in the pill bottle. An unpredictable reaction to medications that causes the skin and internal organ lining simply fall off. While rare, this condition can be caused by nearly any drug and in effect could happen after treating the slightest malady. Anything from a headache, common cold or even an infected fingernail could cause you to use a drug which may trigger SJS.
Even though the disease is rare, and affects only a few people each year, it can happen at any time. Doctors suspect that certain people are genetically predisposed, but have no way of knowing how to predict who will be affected. Bernard Cohen is the head of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland says “There’s no way to avoid it. No way to know who can be at risk.”
Most people survive SJS, Strickland’s case was very severe, and his father said that he lost the skin over 95 percent of his body. There were no comments from the doctors who treated him at Parkland. Patients who survive SJS typically have a quick recovery. However that is not always the case.
Two years ago Cecelia Garcia had a cold. She used her husbands’ prescription for Bactrim. Bactrim is a sulfa based drug that is rather strongly associated with SJS. Two weeks after taking the medication Ms. Garcia visited her doctor who told her that the red spots that erupted all over her body were caused by a drug allergy. Her physician prescribed- Bactrim. Two days later Cecilia was rushed to Parkland screaming “I want to die” as nurses scrubbed away her bubbling skin with wet towels. She eventually slipped into an induced coma.
Two years afterward Cecilia Garcia has scars covering her body, her eyelids are so scarred that the lashes grow inward, she is half blind, and her tear ducts no longer produce tears. She rarely leaves the house except to attend the seemingly endless doctor appointments and eye surgeries. When she does go out she has to wrap her head in a scarf and wear tinted goggles because the sunlight is excruciating.