Hokitika teen’s brush with death

Janna Sherman
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A Hokitika teenager is lucky to be alive after contracting a rare skin-eating bug that left him with severe blood poisoning, organ failure and in a coma for four days.
James Johnston, a Westland High School supported student, spent three weeks in Christchurch Hospital fighting for his life after coming in contact with the bug necrotising fasciitis, which has a high mortality rate and is rarely reported in New Zealand.
James’ mother, Phyllis, said it appeared as a bruise at first and within days had spread over most of his left arm. She took him to the doctor and not long after that he collapsed at home and his heart stopped. He was resuscitated in the ambulance on the way to Grey Base Hospital, where he was diagnosed with the bug as well as septicaemia and toxic shock, which caused his organs to shut down.
James was flown to Christchurch Hospital for immediate surgery to cut away the ravaged section of his arm.
Ms Johnston said her son then spent four days in ICU in an induced coma before another operation to take a skin graft from his thigh for his arm. He was then hooked up to a dialysis machine to clean his blood.
“It was really scary,” she said. “It is heart-breaking when you are told by five doctors that your son might not make it through the night.”
Luckily, he bounced back and all the procedures were a success. Two weeks later he was recovering in a ward.
Family members spent all of the time in the Ronald McDonald House and Ms Johnston said the support of staff there, and well-wishers back home had buoyed them through the ordeal.
A Facebook page was started for the 15-year-old, with over 600 followers quickly getting behind it. Cards, care packages and a collection was organised for the family to help them.
Te Whare Atawai teacher Jenny Pizey said James’ fellow students were looking forward to his return. “The kids have been quite worried about him and we really look forward to him coming back.”
He is expected to be well enough to return to school in a fortnight.