Autistic Girl Overcomes Rare Infection, Loss of Leg, But Won’t Slow Down

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ARLINGTON – Crowds cheered loudly for Special Olympians in Arlington earlier this month.

They’re all overcoming challenges, but very few have beaten the challenge that teenager Briannah Buckley whipped, just to be able to sprint down the track.

And maybe no one has done it quite like she did.

As we first showed you in November, Briannah, who has autism, contracted a mysterious infection on her leg. Doctors couldn’t diagnose it, and couldn’t stop it.

“I felt like I was in a bad dream,” said her mother, Brandi Teplicek.

Doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center removed more and more tissue, while trying to identify the relentless bug.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Donald Murphey recalled frustration and desperation. He remembers thinking if the infection wasn’t contained, Briannah wouldn’t survive.

After weeks failures and experimental treatments, a lab in Seattle finally identified an extremely rare, fungus-like organism that sounds like a Harry Potter spell.

Pythius insidiosum.

“Then we found out it was the pythius insidiosum, and tried medicines that worked best for that, and it still got worse,” Murphey said.

Doctors determined the only way to save her life was to take her leg.

Before surgery, she prayed for the team. The day after, she was already walking on crutches.

And when Briannah left the hospital, the staff cheered her on. They were all moved by her physical and emotional strength.

“She’s adapted to having a prosthetic leg better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Murphey said.

He and Briannah’s parents believe her autism has acted as a shield. It’s only one remarkable aspect now making Briannah a medical case study.

“This is a very unusual case,” Murphey said. “There’s only a handful of cases of pythium infection of people in the U.S. She’s an important example of a very unusual infection.”

It’s believed the organism is contracted through water.

But only one case a year is usually reported in the U.S. Briannah’s story will make physicians more aware of it, and new high tech resources to diagnose it.

“Using molecular biology to find answers quickly to what microbe or organism has invaded our body,” Murphey explained.

Doctors narrowly won the race to save Briannah Buckley’s life.

Life force is more like it, as she showed at this month’s Special Olympics.

She jumped and cheered wildly after mounting the podium to receive her medals. She never even mentioned her new metal leg.


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