Strep A: little girl, 4, almost died when the bacteria turned her chickenpox into a flesh-eating infection

Reign Passey spent three weeks in hospital and had to undergo a lifesaving four-hour operation to remove the flesh eating bacteria, necrotising fasciitis, after contracting Strep A.

A little girl was left fighting for her life after developing Strep A, which her mum says turned her chickenpox into a flesh-eating infection.

Reign Passey spent three weeks in hospital and had to undergo a lifesaving four-hour operation to remove the deadly bacteria. The four-year-old has been left with a large scar on her right side - which she tells people she imaginatively got from "winning a fight against a crocodile".

Little Reign’s near death experience comes amidst a wave of children who have died after contracting Strep A. The UK Health Security Agency has said at least 37 youngsters have died across UK after getting the bacteria since the end of September. Strep A normally causes mild illness, but in a small number of cases can become very serious according to the NHS.

Reign’s mum Leanne Passey, 31, says she feared she would lose her daughter - and now wants to warn other parents to watch out for symptoms, after lab tests showed her little girl had contracted Strep A.

Little Reign Passey, four, in hospital. Credit: Leanne Passey / SWNSLittle Reign Passey, four, in hospital. Credit: Leanne Passey / SWNS
Little Reign Passey, four, in hospital. Credit: Leanne Passey / SWNS

Leanne said: "It’s horrendous, you never expect it to happen to you until it does. I just want people to understand that it’s so serious. It wasn’t the chickenpox; it was the Strep that got through the wound."

Reign came down with chickenpox on 4 July and initially appeared fine, Leanne says. But three days later the mum noticed her daughter had a temperature and appeared to be low on energy - symptoms of strep A. She also spotted a red ring around one of the sores – and decided to take her daughter to a doctor. It was then recommended that they visit A&E immediately.

However, when Leanne arrived at Russells Hall Hospital, she claims she was told to take some antibiotics and return home - due to the fact Reign was highly contagious. But Leanne, who works in medicine in Dudley, in the West Midlands, as an aesthetic practioner, refused to leave.

She was eventually told that there were no beds available and they would not be able to treat her daughter, she claims. Leanne said: “By this point the red ring had almost tripled in size. They were adamant they were too busy, she was too contagious and I needed to take her home.

“I said the only way I was leaving was if they kicked me out - she was deteriorating by the second.” Leanne then decided to take Reign to Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where they presented at A&E at 9.30pm. However, due to the contagious nature of chickenpox, they were told to wait outside.

Reign Passey with mum Leanne Passey. Credit: Leanne Passey / SWNSReign Passey with mum Leanne Passey. Credit: Leanne Passey / SWNS
Reign Passey with mum Leanne Passey. Credit: Leanne Passey / SWNS

Reign was then finally seen by a doctor at 8.30am - 24 hours after Leanne first noticed something wasn’t right. “Between those times, her temperature had gone up to almost 42 degrees, she was hallucinating and talking to me,” Leanne said.

"She'd gone past the point of screaming and was lying there almost lifeless. I picked her up and carried her through the doors and said someone needs to see my daughter, I feel like she’s dying. [The doctors] thought she might have necrotising fasciitis as there was a black mark around the red ring.

“I’d gone from a child with chickenpox to her needing to go in for major op - I was screaming and I thought there’s a chance she was going to die.”

The NHS says necrotising fasciitis is known as the "flesh-eating disease", and is one of the most deadly illnesses which Strep A can cause. It is a rare and life-threatening infection that can happen if a wound gets infected.

Leanne had the chance to briefly give her daughter a kiss and a cuddle before she was sent into theatre for four hours. Surgeons had managed to make a large cut into her side to cut away the necrotising fasciitis. Reign was taken to intensive care, put in an induced coma to manage the pain and given breathing support.

Leanne said that after 48 hours little Reign was in a bad way: “Her face and body were swollen, she didn’t look right at all. “We walked her to theatre and the surgeon explained it had spread and she was in septicaemia – we didn’t know if she was going to survive."

Leanne says doctors then started Reign on "ridiculous amounts of antibiotics" and she recovered. Then youngster also had to have a skin graft on her side was moved to the burns ward to recover. Reign spent three weeks in hospital recovering before being discharged.

Despite being left with a large scar on her side, Leanne says her daughter has recovered well – and likes to tell people she got her scar from "winning a fight against a crocodile".

A spokesperson for Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust said: “When a child arrives at our Emergency Department with an infectious condition, such as chicken pox, steps are taken to move them to a side room or cubicle to safely isolate them from other patients. “However, in times of very high demand when we are unable to offer this immediately, we identify somewhere for patients to wait away from the waiting room to minimise the risk of infection to other vulnerable patients.

"This is only done when considered safe following an assessment with a clinical professional and we communicate with families that should they have any concerns to notify a member of the clinical team immediately. “It was an exceptionally busy summer period, all children were triaged by a member of our team very shortly after arrival and would be seen on a number of occasions by clinical professionals in the time before a cubicle became available.

“Chicken pox is a very common childhood illness that would usually last five to seven days. In some cases, the skin can get infected, a sign of this could be a high fever after day five, in that situation parents are urged to see a doctor at their GP or Walk In Centre who can prescribe antibiotics to help.

“In some extremely rare cases the infection can be more serious and cause necrotising fasciitis, which can be caused by Streptococcal A, which would be treated at the hospital. We hope that Reign is doing well in her recovery.”

A spokesperson for Malling Health, which operates the Dudley Urgent Care Centre said: "We are sorry to hear about the experience recently shared with us. We are unable to comment on the specific details of the services provided due to patient confidentiality.

"We are proud of the standards of care provided at our centres and we continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively with local NHS partners to ensure all patients are being provided with safe and high-quality care and support."