Fayetteville, N.C. — Having survived a rare infection, Matthew McKinney, 14, left the hospital on Thursday – a week and a half after a dangerous flesh eating bacterium disfigured his face and nearly took his life.
Family members believe the rising ninth-grader at Jack Britt High School picked up the bacterium chromobacterium violaceum after swimming at Hope Mills Lake on June 14.
Hours after swimming in the lake, Matthew complained of a fever, runny nose, nausea and an irritation on the left side of his nose. He went to the emergency room at a local Fayetteville hospital, where doctors prescribed him medicine and sent him home.
Matthew returned to the hospital several times thereafter and was examined by multiple specialists.
A week later, the left side of his face had swollen, his teeth had started to spread, the roof of his mouth was gone and his tissue had started decaying. The infection had spread to his lungs and sinuses.
“I was shocked. I didn’t think something like that would happen to me,” Matthew said.
Matthew’s parents said they were not prepared for how quickly the bacteria spread.
“We broke down in tears and it was just one thing after another,” said Matthew’s mother Chelseann McKinney.
The infection has completely disfigured Matthew’s face, so much so that the teen could not believe the image in the mirror when he saw himself for the first time after surgery.
“It was kinda strange because you want to go scratch in one spot and that spot wasn’t there anymore,” Mathew said.
Matthew was treated at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He still faces reconstructive surgery and antibiotic treatments.
Cumberland County public health officials have called the case "tragic and isolated," and UNC Hospital's pediatric infectious disease expert, Dr. Tom Belhorn, says chromobacterium violaceum is prevalent throughout the environment, especially in soil.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been fewer than 150 reported cases of infection reported worldwide between 1927 and 2005.