07:28pm Thursday 05 December 2019

LI Boy Brought Back to Life after Mysterious Infection Nearly Destroyed Lungs

Eric Zapata, 15, celebrates his recovery with his older brother Carlos Zapata Jr., David Zeltsman, MD, mother Iris Rivera, Michelle Ramirez, MD, and Arthur Klein, MD.

a news conference Thursday at Schneider Children’s Hospital, where he was literally brought back to life last fall, Eric and his family thanked the medical staff who refused to give up on him, especially David Zeltsman, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Medical Center, who performed the miracle surgeries that saved Eric’s life, and Michelle Ramirez, MD, a pediatric intensivist who first cared for Eric upon his arrival at SCH.

In August 2009, Eric complained to his mother, Iris Rivera, of back pains, trouble walking and fever. He was brought to a hospital near his home and soon placed on a respirator. A bump on his leg from an infected mosquito bite was discovered. The bacteria Methicillin-Sensitive Staphylococcus Aureus (MSSA), the most common cause of staph infection, was found to be running rampant through his bloodstream.

One month later, sepsis (a systemic blood infection that often becomes fatal) set in and Eric’s vital organs began to shut down. Both lungs collapsed, and he was put into a medically-induced coma for 28 days. During that time, he developed infections in his left lung and necrotizing pneumonia in both lungs — a severe complication of community-acquired pneumonia that kills the lung tissue. He needed 17 tubes to help remove fluid build-up and inflate his lungs, a tracheotomy to help him breathe and tubes for feeding. Despite the intervention, Eric’s high fever returned and he needed a ventilator to help him breathe. His weight dropped from 150 pounds to a skeletal 106.

In September 2009, Eric was transferred to Schneider Children’s Hospital (SCH), and on Sept. 27, his heart stopped. He was brought back to life with cardio-resuscitation. Even though doctors promised his mother that they would treat him aggressively, the family was told to prepare for the worst. Eric’s lungs were like Swiss cheese from the necrotizing pneumonia and were literally falling apart. According to Dr. Ramirez, “Eric’s lungs were in very bad shape. He was as sick as anyone could be.”

That’s when Dr. Zeltsman was brought in. Referred to by Ms. Rivera as “Eric’s angel,” Dr. Zeltsman informed the family of a surgical option — he referred to it as “the last resort” — that had an extremely high risk of failure. Because of Eric’s condition, Dr. Zeltsman needed to operate immediately. Without the surgery, both lungs would continue to decompose and Eric would die. Two surgeries were performed in early October to clean out the diseased lung tissue; during each surgery, Dr. Zeltsman removed one-third of the lower lung.

Eric’s condition stabilized and he slowly began to improve. He left SCH in December and was sent to another hospital near his home in Suffolk County for one month of inpatient rehabilitation. On January 15, Eric returned to SCH to have his breathing tube removed and he was allowed to go home to continue his recuperation. He now weighs a healthier 128 pounds and is eagerly awaiting his 16th birthday on April 26th. Asked about his ordeal, Eric said simply, “Never take anything for granted. Life is a miracle.”

Contact: Michelle Pinto


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