Jack saved from life-threatening infection

Posted on Monday 22nd January 2018
Jack Underwood with family

Jack Underwood with younger brother Teddy and with consultant plastic surgeon Aina Greig.

The family of a five-year-old boy who nearly died from an infection caused by chickenpox have thanked the doctors and nurses who saved his life.

Jack Underwood, from Gravesend in Kent, developed chickenpox on Easter Sunday last year. The next day he felt very unwell, had swellings on his chest, could not move his arm and was in a lot of pain.

He was taken by ambulance to his local hospital and was then transferred to Evelina London Children’s Hospital, where his parents, Melissa Minall and Harry Underwood, were told that he had developed necrotising fasciitis. Commonly known as flesh-eating disease, necrotising fasciitis is a serious, life-threatening bacterial skin infection that spreads quickly and kills the body’s soft tissue. Jack had both chickenpox and a group A streptococcal infection (group A strep) which led to necrotising fasciitis.

Melissa, 33, said: “I wasn’t surprised when Jack got chickenpox as it was going round his school. When he became unwell the next day I thought he would get better – that’s what you expect with chickenpox.

“It became clear that something was very wrong, Jack was burning hot, had no energy, more swellings and was in pain. I was told his body was shutting down.

“We were told it was so serious that he needed to see specialists at Evelina London. As soon as we arrived we knew we were in good hands – the staff were amazing. They explained that they needed to operate quickly to cut out his damaged tissue and save his life.”

In May, after he started to heal, Jack returned to Evelina London to have skin grafts, using skin from his thigh which was placed over synthetic skin made from extracts of shark cartilage and cow collagen which strengthen the new skin.

Melissa said: “We weren’t sure if he would survive the initial surgery. We kissed him goodbye before he went to theatre. It was an unimaginable situation.

“It was a lot for Jack to go through. He was in bed for weeks and almost had to learn to walk again because he had no strength. A physiotherapist came round from Evelina and he was doing press ups in his bedroom when he could.

“He has been very strong which has made it easier for us to cope. He doesn’t shy away from showing people his scars – I think he is quite proud of them. Now he is back at school and playing football again.”

At the end of September Melissa and Harry raised around £1,200 for Evelina London by taking part in the fundraising event Guy’s Urban Challenge.

Melissa said: “We wanted to give something back to the hospital to say thank you. The care that Jack received was wonderful. Nothing was a problem – they were angels and looked after him like he was their own.”

Ms Aina Greig, consultant plastic surgeon at Evelina London, led the team who operated on Jack. She says: “Group A strep is a very aggressive bacteria, often found on the skin or in the throat. It can cause an infection if there is a problem with the immune system – in Jack’s case, his immune system was weakened by chickenpox.

“The combination of group A strep and chickenpox often leads to necrotising fasciitis. As it spreads through the tissue, the skin dies and the patient gets more septic, so it can be fatal. It’s vital to take the affected tissue out quickly – if Jack had been operated on even one hour later he may not have survived. He was very sick and had big patches of black skin where the tissue had died.

“It’s wonderful to see how well and how quickly Jack has recovered. Children like him are why we do what we do – we want to make a difference to patients. We managed to get him healed, back in school and doing normal things relatively quickly. There was a big team of us who looked after Jack – from the surgical team and nurses to staff on the paediatric intensive care unit and on his ward. It’s a real team effort and I’m delighted he’s doing so well.”