Boy faces amputation |

Boy faces amputation

Tyler Johnson, 10, fights undiagnosed disease at The Children's Hospital

Kristi Mohrbacher

— When a healthy 10-year-old gets sick, most parents don’t expect it to change the child’s life forever.

But that may be the case for Tyler Johnson of Steamboat Springs.

Tyler was airlifted to The Children’s Hospital in Denver on Tuesday after medical staff at Yampa Valley Medical Center was unable to diagnose his symptoms. Tyler remains undiagnosed at The Children’s Hospital, though doctors told his mother, Shara Johnson, the disease that most closely resembles Tyler’s symptoms is a form of meningitis called meningococcal disease. The bacterial infection takes place in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Medical staff told Johnson that Tyler will have at least 4 inches of his feet and all five fingers of his right hand amputated as early as this week.

“We’re just so lucky that Tyler’s insides are OK. It’s the outside of his body that took the brunt of this,” Johnson said Friday as she prepared to move Tyler out of intensive care.

Johnson said Tyler began vomiting about 5 a.m. June 23, a week ago today. She thought it might be heat exhaustion and took Tyler to the doctor that afternoon. Tests came back negative. The next day, Tyler had a temperature of 103.7, Johnson said. When the fever wouldn’t break, she took him to the emergency room. Tyler developed two small rashes on his feet. The rashes spread and were diagnosed as a blood infection. Late Tuesday afternoon, Tyler was airlifted to Denver.

Recommended Stories For You

Upon his arrival at The Children’s Hospital, Tyler’s heart suddenly stopped beating. Medical staff gave him CPR and revived him as Johnson made the drive from Steamboat.

Severe symptoms

Doctors have referred Johnson to a Web site,, for information. According to the site, about 3,000 people in the U.S. become infected with the bacteria each year. As many as one in 10 people infected die from it. A person can contract meningitis “by having close personal contact with a person who is sick with the disease,” the site states. Contact with a healthy carrier – someone who carries the bacteria in their nose or throat but does not become sick – also can cause infection.

Severe swelling in the brain and spinal cord and sepsis, or blood poisoning, can lead to limb amputation, severe scarring, brain damage, hearing loss, kidney damage and more.

Early symptoms of the disease are similar to the flu and include vomiting, fever and drowsiness.

Johnson spoke to Kate Lujan with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about Tyler’s case last week. Lujan said Sunday that the Denver office handles all media inquiries and because Tyler’s case is not considered “an emergency issue,” media calls would most likely not be returned until today.

Unknown cause

Even if doctors diagnose Tyler with meningococcal disease – all tests have so far come back negative – they are not clear how or where Tyler came into contact with the bacteria. The Web site states that it can strike anyone and the disease often is associated with college students living in dormitories because of the close quarters. Sharing drinking glasses, water bottles or utensils; having irregular sleeping patterns; and being in crowded situations for a prolonged period of time also can spread the disease, according to the site.

Tyler’s mother said he is very active and loves to do all the things boys his age enjoy. The week before he showed the first symptoms, Tyler participated in activities with the city of Steamboat Springs’ summer camp.

Chris Wilson, director of the Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, said the department is monitoring the situation, but he believes the summer camp is absolutely safe for children.

Tyler “left our camp healthy and fine. We have not been notified that he has anything that they can diagnose right now,” said Wilson, who is in contact with a local doctor, the Johnson family and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Wilson said activities at the state-licensed summer camp will continue as normal this week. He said the department has a procedure in place to notify parents in the event of illnesses, such as chicken pox or measles, but he has no cause for such a notification at this time.

“We believe that the camps are safe, and we’ll monitor and take whatever steps if we get notified” of a diagnosis, he said. “We’ve had no notification that there’s any kind of problem. We’re working on that until the VNA : contacts us to tell us different.”

Tyler lives with his mother and 8-year-old sister, Tehya, in Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. His mother said that though the kids argue, they are inseparable. Johnson is a supervisor of admissions at the Yampa Valley Medical Center and has worked there for about five years.

Tyler is a student at Soda Creek Elementary School and plans to start fifth grade in the fall. Longtime family friend Eva Dworakowski said “Tyler is very much the big brother,” and described him as a very proud and brave little boy. She said during her four-hour visit to The Children’s Hospital, she didn’t hear Tyler complain even once.

“Tyler was on a wrestling team for the last three years,” Shara Johnson said. “He loves to wrestle.”

Tyler opened his eyes on his hospital bed Friday to correct his mother, saying that he still is on the wrestling team and plans to go back in the fall.

To help

Eva Dworakowski, friend of the Johnson family, set up a fund at Vectra Bank to help with medical bills related to Tyler’s treatment and care. Donations can be dropped off at 2155 Resort Drive and should be made out to Tyler Johnson.

On the ‘Net

For updates on Tyler’s condition and more information from health officials, visit http://www.steamboatpilo…