Six-year-old girl loses leg after sore throat leads to 'flesh-eating' infection

Tessa Puma: Facebook (
Tessa Puma: Facebook (

A little girl who loved to dance lost her leg after a common throat infection developed into a dangerous ‘flesh-eating’ bug.

Tessa Puma, a six-year-old from the midwestern US state of Ohio, was taking antibiotics after being diagnosed with strep throat, a bacterial infection of the back of the throat and tonsils.

But after she also caught the flu and began to complain of pain in her limbs, her parents took her to two hospitals where doctors spotted the rare but potentially life-threatening complication.

Doctors said bacteria from her sore throat had travelled through her bloodstream to the tissues in her legs, resulting in necrotising fasciitis – a tissue infection that can spread quickly and lead to further complications such as sepsis, which can cause organ failure and death.

“She spent a couple of days in the hospital, and her leg got worse and worse,” Tessa’s father Matt Puma told ABC News.

Necrotising fasciitis is sometimes called ‘flesh-eating’ as it causes tissues under the skin and around the muscles to die. This tissue damage is in fact caused by the release of toxins.

As Tessa’s state worsened, causing her severe pain, doctors decided to operate to relieve swelling, reported the broadcaster.

They discovered the infection had already caused extensive damage in her left leg, and when they could not find a pulse due to the amount of dead tissue, they decided to amputate the limb from the knee down.

Tessa’s dance instructor, Stacey Kopec from the studio in Northfield, a town near Cleveland in the north west of the state, told Fox 8 she had known Tessa was “such a superstar, she was born to dance” since she joined the troupe two years ago.

“In the 28 years that I've been teaching dance, this is the most devastating thing that we've had to go through,” she said. “I love her and I hope she gets well soon and we all miss her.”

Tessa is currently recovering in a children’s hospital, where she will have further surgery on her leg to help her survive.

“Tessa's surgery tomorrow is at noon, it is just to fix her leg to get it ready for her prosthetic down the road,” her mother Tina Puma wrote on Facebook.

“Skin grafting will start when she is feeling better and off the ventilators.”

Ms Puma said Tessa had had lots of visitors, adding: “She was the most responsive and alert she had been” and asking people to “please keep our Tiny Dancer in your prayers”.

Scientists have warned that a new strain of the bacteria that causes strep throat, group A streptococcus, is spreading globally and has contributed to a rise in these so-called ‘flesh-eating’ bugs.

Researchers investigating the bacteria said there had been a rise in group A streptococcus infections over an 11-year period between 1998 and 2009 that were linked to the new, more potent sub-type, named emm89.

Scientists in Japan, Canada, France and Sweden have also reported a surge in infections linked to this new strain.

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