Staph infection was tough to tackle
October 3, 2008
By Barbara Matson, Globe Staff
Kyle Audette was having a great football season in 2007. Cocaptain of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the senior linebacker from Mattapoisett was one of the leading tacklers on the team and the Buccaneers were 2-1, a promising start after seasons of 0-9 and 3-6.
But while walking through the locker room before Game 4 last September, he began to feel pain in his left ankle. During the game, he was too pumped with adrenaline to notice, but as soon as the game was over the pain came back. Audette has eczema, and he figured that's what the red bump on his ankle was. Except it hurt when he was standing.
It happened to be his birthday, and Audette went home to celebrate with friends.
"I kept telling my mom that something was wrong with my leg," Audette said. "Afterward, we were kind of laughing because she couldn't see it, but she kind of placated me and said she could."
As soon as he woke up Sunday morning, Audette knew it was something serious. The pain was worse and the red bump had grown.
"It was well-defined and I started to think it was a spider bite," he said. Audette had a culture taken and started taking the antibiotic Bactrim, but the bump kept getting bigger and redder.
"I had it wrapped up and I didn't want to go to the hospital," said Audette. "You know, I was trying to be tough about it and saying I didn't need to go."
Audette's mother insisted, and drove her son to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "We got there and they took one look at it - it was really bad, the leg was almost turning black," said Audette.
That's when Audette learned he had MRSA - Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection that can be fatal. In the last two years, cases have been reported with increasing frequency among students, particularly those on athletic teams. In the last week, two high school football players have died from MRSA infections, one in Philadelphia and one in Florida.
"It just snuck up on us," said Buccaneers coach Jeremy Cameron. "He's our best player, so the kids were a little bit intimidated. If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. It just kind of sideswiped us. You think of all the kinds of football injuries you could get, and then this."
"At school, they said it's the next big thing," said Audette, who added that several other players had had staph infections earlier that season.
According to MayoClinic.com, Staph bacteria, found on the skin or in the nose of one-third of the population, are usually harmless, unless they enter the body through a cut or wound. Football players may be particularly susceptible because of frequent abrasions caused by artificial turf fields.
At Beth Israel, Audette was given an intravenous antibiotic, and doctors cut into the sores and used swabs to clean the area, a painful process. His kidney levels jumped inexplicably and he remained in the hospital for four days until they were back to normal.
The worst was yet to come. The infection returned.
Audette took a week off after leaving the hospital, but continued to feel tired. "I came to school one day and I was dizzy," he said. "I spoke with Coach and he said, 'You don't look right.' "
Audette went home. Another spot appeared on his calf, and another. He returned to Beth Israel and had two more painful draining procedures on the sores. Audette had missed three weeks of school by this time, and decided to take off the semester.
"It was just so frustrating, being captain of the team and I felt like having to bail on the team," he said.
Audette, who led Mass. Maritime with 72 tackles as a junior and was named to the New England Football Conference first team, returned this fall for his second senior season, and second stint as a captain.
"He's come back in good shape," Cameron said. "He's still the same football player, no difference. He plays 100 miles per hour, nothing has changed."
Audette said at first he wore high socks and arm guards to protect himself, and others, but a razzing from spectators during the game at New York Maritime put him back in regulation short socks and gear.
"No matter what I do, I always have cuts all over after the game, even if I'm covered up," he said. "It hasn't infringed any on the way I play. I just have it in the back of my mind because I don't want to have to go through that, I don't want to miss any time on the field, or miss any school time."
The Buccaneers have had a rocky start this season, losing their first four games.
"We're young and now, with the 0-4 start, I see my role elevated, mine and the other cocaptain, Colin Teehan," he said. "We're at a crossroads. We can decide where we're going to go. Are we going to hang it up and just quit, or are we going to reveal our true character and come out there and just compete every week and start winning some games?"