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Hartfield baby survives salmonella and meningitis

Ava Grace Harris sits happily with her mother Kristin and brother Cole at their home in Piankatank Shores near Hartfield on Monday. Before Christmas, the then four-and-a-half month-old girl fought for her life after she contracted salmonella poisoning and bacterial meningitis. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry S. Chowning

Ava Grace Harris attended her first Christmas Eve service in 2008, surrounded by family and friends at Lower United Methodist Church. For everyone that night it was a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, but it was also a time to give thanks for a healthy Ava Grace.

Only a few days earlier, at the age of four-and-a-half months, Ava Grace had overcome enormous odds by surviving salmonella poisoning and bacterial meningitis.

Salmonella has been in the news lately as being the bacteria responsible for the death and sickness of numerous people across the country. Salmonella is particularly dangerous for the very young because they have undeveloped immune systems.

Peanut butter that was manufactured at a specific plant in Georgia is being blamed as the most recent carrier of the deadly bacteria. It’s a mystery, however, as to how Ava Grace ingested salmonella. 

Ava Grace is the daughter of Corey and Kristin Harris of Hartfield. Their nightmare started on December 15 and would last until Christmas Eve. 

On December 15, Ava Grace was throwing up and had a fever, and she was taken to the emergency room at Rappahannock General Hospital in Kilmarnock.

During this first visit to RGH, tests were run and one test revealed she had strep throat, which is serious for a baby but not deadly. “She had strep throat and was placed on an antibiotic. It was routine,” said grandmother Vickie Hogge, a nurse at RGH.

Hogge credits the doctors at RGH for saving Ava Grace’s life because at that time they could have settled for the strep throat diagnosis and discharged the baby.

However, the doctors went a step further and did a blood culture, which would eventually identify the salmonella infection. “When the culture came back, it showed there was another problem and we were back in the emergency room,” said Hogge.

The culture did not specifically identify salmonella because it had to be further tested, but the doctors, realizing there was another problem, gave Ava Grace antibiotics both orally and intravenously.
“This was the second miracle the doctors did that saved her life,” said Hogge. “By giving her that much antibiotic, it bought her a little bit of time and gave her a little something in her system to slow the bacteria down.”

The next day Ava Grace looked better, but by that night she was much worse, said Hogge. “When we got back to RGH, the soft spot on her head was bulging. The bacteria, growing in her blood, had crossed over into her spinal fluid. Now she didn’t just have salmonella, she also had bacterial meningitis.”

Ava Grace was rushed to VCU Medical Center on December 17 by the Middlesex County Volunteer Rescue Squad, and there she was given a series of fluids and antibiotics. By then the bacteria had been positively identified as salmonella.

Ava Grace wasn’t at VCU long when she had a seizure.  “ ‘She’s not breathing! Call for help! Get her oxygen!’ everyone screamed,” said Hogge.

Doctors and nurses rushed to the baby and assisted her respiration. “Tears streamed down our cheeks as we watched a team of doctors and nurses take her into another room,” said Hogge. “The infectious disease in Ava’s spinal fluid irritated her brain to the point that she seized.”

After a while, Ava Grace’s mother was told she could go into the room with her baby. “I rushed to hold her,” said Kristin. “The chaplain from the hospital was called. She was a beautiful woman with long white hair. She sat behind us with a lap harp, softly playing ‘Amazing Grace.’ This was the perfect song for our Ava, since she had been our amazing Grace from birth.”

Two days later on December 19, Ava Grace began taking milk and began to interact with her family. Her long, hard fight to survive a salmonella infection was just about over and she had won. She was released on December 23. However, she would have to be on antibiotics for four more weeks.

“We were home on Christmas Eve,” said Kristin. “Our Christmas miracle was granted. No one can tell us how Ava came in contact with salmonella, but everyone is in agreement, she is a true miracle!”
Ava Grace is now a healthy six-month-old baby.

posted 02.04.2009

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