Teen survives sinus infection that spread into his brain

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NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A North Kansas City High School senior had what he and his mom thought was a cold or the flu. It turns out it was a sinus infection that went into his brain and nearly killed him.

Drew Witherspoon is missing part of his skull, but the 18-year-old has his life.

“I appreciate everything 10 times more now,” said Witherspoon.

In early January, Witherspoon’s upper respiratory infection turned into something much worse. He was so weak he couldn’t walk to the restroom by himself.

“He was talking very delirious, swearing. That’s completely out of character for him.” said his mother, Monika Witherspoon.

Witherspoon was rushed to North Kansas City Hospital where an MRI revealed infection in the lining of his brain. It was a bacterial infection that had started in his sinuses.

He was transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital for emergency surgery to remove the abscess caused by the infection. His condition worsened. He had sepsis, a severe blood infection. He went on a ventilator.

“He suffered two seizures and was very unresponsive. And I just knew that day, it was gonna be over,” said his mother.

Doctors discovered more infection in the brain, so they did more surgery.

“I just prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. It was only by the grace of God that my son is alive,” said Monika Witherspoon.

Drew Witherspoon is now back at North Kansas City Hospital on the rehab floor. He’s still on antibiotics. He wears a helmet to protect his brain. He will need more surgery to replace the missing bone. His story is a reminder that seemingly ordinary infections can turn into life-threatening ones.

Dr. Mary O’Connor, an infectious disease specialist, says seek medical help if, “Your symptoms become more severe after a few days. Temperature starts to rise, more severe headaches, more respiratory symptoms.”

Witherspoon feels fortunate.

“Just the other day, it dawned on me I could have lost my life,” he said.

He has some brain damage, but he’s determined to graduate from North Kansas City High in the spring.

About one in a 100,000 people will have an infection like Witherspoon’s that goes into the brain.

For more of his story, click on this link.

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