Molly Genta: “I had hope and a will to live”
News Report Staff
Molly Genta was a typical 17-year-old high school senior.
She was actively involved in a variety of school clubs and activities.
She was a class officer and a member of the student council.
She was a volunteer, babysitter and self-proclaimed “family girl.”
Molly was also popular, attractive and ranked No. 1 in her class; hopeful of being the Valedictorian for the Mattoon High School graduating Class of 2008
During Christmas break in December 2007, however, she came down with a sinus infection. She went to the doctor and was prescribed Bactrim DS – a sulfa antibiotic to be taken over the next 14 days.
It would have been impossible for her to know the effect those pills would have on her body.
Within two weeks, she broke out in a rash and had a temperature of 103.
A couple days later, she was given a five percent chance of survival and her parents were told she might not make it.
She was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a rare disease that affects just one in 2 million people yearly.
It was an allergic response to the sulfa medication, which resulted in a rash and subsequent blisters that covered 95 percent of her body, as well as extremely high fevers and near organ failure.
“Basically, it eats your body from the inside out,” Molly explained. “It affects your mucous membranes, internal organs and your skin, and can cause many residual side effects.”
It literally burned her skin off from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet.
“I was a teenager that had a lot going for me,” Molly said. “I’m a pretty happy person in general, plus I knew I was a fighter. I had the hope and a will to live.”
That “will to live” helped get Molly through the challenging months that followed. Now, nearly 10 years later, she is a beautiful young lady with near-perfect skin. She is engaged to be married, lives in Effingham, and thanks to a special caregiver, is now a nurse herself at the Effingham Ambulatory Surgery Center.
But on Jan. 5, 2008, none of that seemed possible. That was the 14th and final day for her medicine.
“I broke out in a fever of 103 and I had a red rash from my head to near my belly button,” Molly recalled. “I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Rubella at the time. Over the course of the next two days, my mom continued to take me back and forth to the clinic, but the rash was getting worse and my fever wouldn’t break. I was in so much pain, but little did I know that the pain was going to become much worse.
On January 7, Molly went to the Sarah Bush Emergency Room. Dr. David Cline was the ER physician who Molly credits with “helping save my life.”
“He took one look at me and asked if I had been on antibiotics,” she noted. “When I told him I had just finished taking them for 14 days, he had a shocked look on his face. He told my parents I was a very sick girl and that I had a very small chance of survival.”
Dr. Cline diagnosed Molly with Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TENS)/Stevens Johnson Syndrome.
“There’s no treatment for it. It has to run its course,” she said. “The majority of victims do not make it due to reasons of infection, age and subsequent conditions that occur because of the illness.”
Molly was soon transferred to Carle Hospital in Champaign, and within 17 hours, the rash turned from red to purple and soon blisters started forming.
“I was metamorphosing before the medical team’s’ eyes,” she said. “At that point, the physicians and nurses did not know how to care for me. I was getting sicker by the moment and the odds for survival were not in my favor.
While at Carle Hospital, the nurse assigned to Molly was Kelly Parker.
“She told the doctor she wasn’t going to let me die that night,” Molly remembered. “She was another one of my lifesavers. She called every burn unit in Illinois and surrounding states. Thanks to her, I was transferred to Springfield Memorial Burn Unit to the only available bed locally.
“She even rode with me in the ambulance,” Molly noted. “She’s the one that inspired me to become a nurse.”
Molly arrived in Springfield at 2 a.m. Within an hour, she was in a sterile whirlpool and the nurses were pulling away all the blisters. By that time, the blisters ranged in size from a quarter to a football and were on both the outside and inside of her body. It was just raw, open nerve endings. She was classified as a second and third degree burn victim.
“They covered my entire body,” Molly said. “They treated me just like a burn victim. Daily, the nurses and specialists debrided and wrapped my body with layers of medicated bandages and dressings as I laid heavily sedated, but still coherent enough that I can remember the grueling amount of pain I endured.”
She was fed through a feeding tube and received a PICC line for medications and treatments.
“The care of the Burn Unit medical team was unwavering. It was indescribable how compassionate they were,” Molly recalled.
Five days after arriving in Springfield, Molly’s organs began to show signs of organ failure, plus she got an infection in her bloodstream.
“To kill that infection, they had to pour two gallons of diluted bleach down my back three times a day,” Molly explained. “I couldn’t take antibiotics, so the diluted bleach was the only option.
“An amazing team of physicians, including Dermatology, Infectious Disease, Plastic Surgery and Burn Doctors cared for me day in and day out,” she added. “But over the next two weeks, things didn’t improve a great deal.
“I was even given my last rites, although I was so heavily sedated, I don’t remember that,” Molly recalled. “I couldn’t even open my eyes. They had blisters and corneal ulcers on them and were swollen shut.
Finally, however, there were signs of improvement. Her organs were starting to recover, the infections started to clear up, blisters stopped forming and her skin began to respond to the medical dressings and bandages.
And through her feeding tube, she began receiving protein to help form new skin. In fact, she got nearly 15 times the normal amount of protein a person would take in.
“I started to realize things were looking up,” Molly said. “I was still a very sick girl, but I started begging to go home.”
On January 23, Molly got her wish and returned home. She calls that her Celebration of Life Day.
She still had to make daily trips to the eye doctor in Champaign and weekly visits to the dermatologist. And her mom was taught how to change the dressings at home.
“I was basically incubated in my home from the end of January until the beginning of May,” Molly said. “My days consisted of waking up, bathtub treatments, changing my dressings, drinking protein shakes, lying on the couch and falling asleep. It was exhausting to just walk across the room. Functioning normally was nearly impossible.
“My mom was my rock and biggest supporter during that time,” Molly added. “She was with me 24/7. She was a teacher and took a leave for the rest of the school year.”
But Molly continued to get better, albeit gradually. The school developed an individualized learning plan for her. She was able to graduate with her class and finished No. 4.
“It was a proud moment for my entire family,” she admitted.
Molly had to deal with some self-esteem and confidence issues, but didn’t require any plastic surgery. She takes very good care of her skin and it shows.
“What hasn’t changed is my happiness,” she said. “Life is too short not to love it and live it at the same time. I’m still a very positive, happy person that loves life.”
Following high school, Molly earned her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Illinois and her Masters from Benedictine University. She has been a nurse for five years. She started in pediatrics before coming to Effingham two years ago.
“What a welcoming community,” Molly said. “From the first day I moved here, it’s been a wonderful fit. It’s home.”
She is engaged to Adam Steppe, who she met in early April 2016. They have set a wedding date for June 2, 2018.
“When Adam and I meet, I knew we were soulmates for each other,” Molly noted. “He’s been so supportive of me. I’ve never met anyone as loving and caring as he is.”
Molly will always have to be careful when taking medicine.
“If I take anything with sulfa in it, I could get sick again,” she explained. “I don’t take a whole lot of medicine. I’ve just learned to fight off things. I just deal with it and push through. But after what I went through, I feel like I can conquer just about anything now.
“I’m here today because of the power of prayer. It was a miracle that I walked out of that hospital and had a chance to live. It was God’s plan. It was divine intervention.”