Greenville student placed on life support after suffering toxic shock syndrome

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GREENVILLE, Mich. -- Rylie Whitten is a cheerleader, a dancer and talented musician who was living a normal teenage life until about two weeks ago, when her life took on a drastic change. The 15-year-old Greenville student is on the road to recovery after spending the past two weeks on life support after suffering from the rare infection, toxic shock syndrome.

Rylie's symptoms began January 3 with body-aches and flu-like symptoms. She stayed home from Greenville High School for the next two days as her flu-like body aches continued.

As hours passed, the pain got worse, and Rylie's organs started shutting down. Whitten was rushed via Aero Med to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, where she was placed on life support.

On Wednesday, Whitten's father told FOX 17 he wasn't sure if she'd make it out alive. "She was close several times to not being here anymore," Nathan Whitten said.

A father's worst nightmare.

"It’s real, real, scary stuff," he said.

Early on, Rylie's organs weren't working properly and Rylie was running out of time. "Lungs were stopping, filling up with fluid, heart was in trouble ... Yeah, it was that quick. It just attacks and shuts you down," Nathan Whitten said.

Doctors say all of that was caused by TSS, a bacterial infection caused by heavy tampon use in younger women. According to experts, bacteria can grow during a woman's menstrual cycle, particularly with tampon use. Those toxins can then seep into the bloodstream and travel to different organs.

“She is definitely the sickest toxic shock syndrome patient I have ever taken care of,” said Dr. Surender Rajasekaran, a pediatric intensive care physician at Spectrum Health.

Doctors say TSS is extremely rare, affecting only one in every 100,000 U.S women. Riley was one of those unfortunate few.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a spike in TSS cases in the 1980s linked to high-absorbency tampons. Since that time, labels and inserts have been placed inside feminine hygiene products warning consumers about the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

Whitten says his daughter is finally off of life support and is finally talking and down to only one IV, but she is still suffering with pneumonia.

Doctors say they're not sure how long Riley will stay at Helon Devos Children's Hospital, but say she will likely be transferred to Mary Free Bed for rehab and physical therapy.

To minimize the risk of toxic shock syndrome, Daliya Khuon, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, from Spectrum Health offers several suggestions:

  • Wash your hands before using a tampon.
  • Use a tampon with the lowest absorbency for your needs. Stay away from high-absorbency tampons unless you have a very heavy flow.
  • Keep a tampon in place for just a few hours. Change them frequently.

GoFundMe page has been set up for Rylie.

The story has recently gone viral with Cosmopolitan, Today, and the Daily Mail picking it up.

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13 comments

  • Nicole Guminski

    You may want investigate this further, as there were three cases of this the same day, same hospital. Bad batch of tampons or pyre coincidence? ? One child didn’t make it, the other girl, Hannah, her family was lucky enough to bring her in when symptoms started. She was extremely close to not making it, but with LOTS of prayers is doing better. I think the health department needs to investigate.

    • Bob Jones

      You realize it wasn’t lots of prayers that helped, it was the smart decisions of the parents and the skills of the doctors and other medical staff. Please give proper credit where it’s due.

      • K

        You need to re-think your beliefs and know the prays reached the one who helped them drs and guided them with what needed to be done. Lots of prayers for you sir.

      • Mrs. Lee

        Yes the drs did a good job but God was working through them and the credit was given to the one who deserved it and that was to God!! Last I checked God is the ONLY one who performs miracles!!!

      • John Redcorn

        NO! Doctors DID NOT save her! It was the LORD and HIM only! PRAYERS>medicine! When will people start to understand there is NO reason to go to the doctor, they CAN NOT help you. If the LORD wants you to be SICK or HEALED he WILL do it. smh #Trump2016

  • Nicole Smith

    No one mentions that girls don’t have to use tampons! Pads, small to large are available.
    And Bob Jones, many of us believe it is both prayers and the skills God gave us that help to heal people.

  • J.B. Miller

    I was 17 when i suffered TSS. It was mild, and luckily I knew what it was. I thought I was going to die. It was the first and only time I had used tampons. The only reason I used them was to be able to go into the pool as we were on holiday at the beach. I spent the whole weekend running a high fever, having severe shakes and shivers, possibly convulsions as i was out of it a lot. It was one of those rare occasions when as a young person, you have one of those, crap, i might just die from this moment.
    Thankfully, im still here… but its something that is very very serious, and prob. happens more than you realise.

  • Emily

    Not trying to be a prude, but considering how TSS is acquired, seems unfair to post this poor teenagers face and name. Can’t we do an article and talk about it without putting her on blast. Maybe she’s ok with it, but I know most normal girls that age would be mortified that the public at large had been made privy to their personal hygiene/menstrual cycle. Good Lord.

    • Jade

      I completely agree. She’s only 15 years old and in high school! Plus it’s worth mentioning that you can get TSS from more than just tampons (though that is the reason for the majority of the cases).

    • John Redcorn

      I would hate the news trying to make a quick buck off me. Like, this girl is probably so embarrassed that the whole world knows about her problems.

  • Andrea

    My cousin just died two weeks ago from the same thing. Something we heard about as teenagers but never saw. I think they need to investigate the product! There might be a bad batch going around that needs to be recalled.