Illness doesn't stop teenager
Infected with meningitis as infant
By Duran Bobb
Joanna Arce of Warm Springs knew something was wrong on the morning of March 24, 1998. Little did she know that she was about to face the ultimate test of a mother's love and patience.
Beatriz Camille Arce-Colazo was born June 24, 1998. When her daughter was still a baby, Arce remembers picking up her daughter that morning and being shocked at the heat radiating from the baby.
"That was the day she turned 9 months old. Even as little as she was, she was making me warm," Arce said. "That's how high her fever was running."
Immediately, the family took Beatriz to Warm Springs Indian Health Services. But at 7:20 a.m. the facility was closed. Sensing something was wrong, Arce then drove her daughter to Warm Springs Fire and Safety, but eventually drove her daughter to Mountain View Hospital in Madras.
A variety of tests were done, but the doctors could find nothing wrong with the baby girl. "They sent us home," she said. "By then it was 10:40 in the morning."
As the minutes passed, Arce held her daughter and tried her hardest to be patient. However, her mother's instinct soon kicked in. "We went back to the emergency room," she said. "They sent us back to Warm Springs."
Finally at IHS, a doctor found signs of meningococcal meningitis in Beatriz' blood. The family was sent back to the emergency room.
"The doctor who kept sending us away eventually told us that there was nothing that could be done for Beatriz at Mountain View," Arce said. "So instead, she was sent to Bend by an air ambulance."
The family followed by car, praying for a miracle.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms and can be life-threatening. Symptoms include fever, irritability, drowsiness, rash, neck stiffness and vomiting.
If not treated quickly, meningitis can lead to deafness, epilepsy, hydrocephalus and cognitive deficits. The death rate for meningitis ranges from 5 to 15 percent. Young children and adults over 50 have the highest risk of death.
When the family arrived at the hospital, they were startled to find Beatriz in a worse state.
"She was being worked on by three doctors and four nurses. They told us her condition had deteriorated within the past 15 minutes, so they wanted to send her to Portland by air," said Arce. "By then it was around 8:30 in the evening. My baby had been in pain all day."
In Portland, Beatriz struggled for her life as family gathered for support around her. Arce isn't sure what kept her going then. "All I can remember thinking is that I wanted to hold my baby again."
Faith came to her when tribal members arrived to pray for Beatriz. Then, Beatriz moved her little body, her mother recalls.
"And that's when I knew her recovery was going to be slow but good," she said.
As the meningitis spread, amputations became necessary to remove the areas most affected by the infection.
But Beatriz survived. She spent three months in the hospital and had even longer to go in physical therapy.
Today, the miracle the family had been praying for is apparent. Beatriz is a vibrant 14-year-old attending Obsidian Middle School in Redmond.
"There is a point in life where, of course, I feel different," Beatriz said. "I see others running around doing things that I can't. But then I realize I'm not really different."
One thing she shares in common with others is her desire to learn.
"I have four more years to go until I graduate. Then I want to go to college and maybe study to become a lawyer," she said. "So I know there are negative people around. But when I'm with my friends and my family, I know they're the people who love me. That makes me feel happy. That's when I enjoy life."
A report on Monday said that the death toll in a rare fungal meningitis outbreak across the U.S. had risen to 32.
The outbreak, linked to a pain-killing steroid produced by a pharmacy in Massachusetts, had infected at least 438 people across the country. The product, used for back pain, has been recalled.