Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
Opal Sutton, Bacterial Infection
Merry chaos - that's how an observer might describe Doug and
Heidi Sutton's rambunctious Ferrisburgh household, where their
four kids tumble around the property in happy unison.
The Sutton children didn't always know the pleasures of a happy
home: they were all adopted from orphanages in China, and each
one of them has a disability.
"That's our value system," says Doug. "We believe in looking out
for the underdogs."
The Sutton "underdogs" include three-year-old Opal, who was
adopted after Doug and Heidi saw a photo of her-a small face
crammed into a brochure filled with small faces, all looking for a
home. One side of her face was covered with a large birthmark.
Her smile told them she belonged in their family.
Within a few months, Opal had joined the Sutton clan. The days
flew by-full, busy, and happy.
But one morning, Opal didn't feel well. Heidi took her
Opal's pediatrician recommended that Opal come to Fletcher
"By the time we arrived in the Emergency Department," Doug
says, "Barry Heath, M.D., and Richard Salerno, M.D.-both
pediatric specialists in intensive care-were waiting for us in the
examination room. That's when I knew it was serious."
Within 30 minutes, Opal had gone into septic shock, an extreme
response to a bacterial infection. Emergency Department staff
began massive fluid hydration, medication, and antibiotics.
Opal was moved to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for
more definitive multidisciplinary care. By the time she arrived
there, her major organs were failing.
Behind the scenes, a group of highly skilled medical technologists
were hard at work to determine the cause of Opal's symptoms.
In short order these technologists, using sophisticated blood
culture instruments, discovered that Opal's blood had been
infected by Group A Beta Hemolytic Strep, also known as the
A team of specialists began consulting on Opal's case: pediatric
intensivists Barry Heath, M.D., Richard Salerno, M.D., and Amelia
Hopkins, M.D.; infectious disease specialist Bill Raszka, M.D.;
and plastic surgeons Robert Nesbit, M.D., David Leitner, M.D.,
and Don Laub, M.D.
Initially, the goal was to reverse the organ failure, treating the
accompanying symptoms with fluid hydration, antibiotics, and
medications to keep Opal’s heart pumping.
Seven days later, her blood work began to look more promising,
but Dr. Heath was concerned that she was still unconscious and
on ventilator support.
That’s when the PICU staff noticed a large, red area on Opal’s
right forearm. An ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging
exam (MRI) confirmed everyone’s worst fears: the bacteria were
now spreading across Opal’s body, in the layer of tissue between
the fat and muscle.
Robert Nesbit, M.D., and Amelia Hopkins, M.D. contacted Janice
Gallant, M.D., a specialist in pediatric radiology. Together, they
spent hours examining the MRI film, finding every site where the
bacteria had spread.
And then they brought Opal into the operating room, where
Drs. Nesbit and Laub performed a series of procedures that
consisted of opening up the skin and fat layer, and clearing the
area of bacteria.
“Their skill and dedication were amazing,” says Doug. “They were
so focused on saving Opal—and at the same time they showed
great compassion to our family. We knew they weren’t going to
give up on this little girl.”
Miraculously, after a few days, Opal appeared to be stabilizing.
A few weeks later, her organs were functioning and the deadly
bacteria were cleared out of her system.
Today, Opal shows no signs of her ordeal.
“I just can’t describe what it was like to know that my child was
getting the highest level of care, in a case where the odds were
stacked dauntingly against her,” says Doug. “Every day, it seemed
as if we had the best specialists in the world—and every one of
them acted like Opal was their little girl.”