Survivors reflect on life after deadly bacterial infections
Tuesday, July 25th, 2017
When FRONTLINE’s Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria premiered in 2013, Addie Rerecich and David Ricci were still struggling with the consequences of devastating antibiotic resistant infections. Four years later, FRONTLINE caught up with the two survivors to find out how they were doing as part of an updated broadcast of the film tonight, July 25, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Addie Rerecich
Addie Rerecich was only 11 years old when she was hospitalized with MRSA, an infection her doctor said she likely caught by picking at a scab — like so many kids do. While in the hospital, she contracted an untreatable form of the bacteria stenotrophomonas that nearly took her life.
Rerecich spent three months on life support before receiving a double-lung transplant. After five years of physical therapy and several bouts of pneumonia, she is covered in surgical scars. She takes a daily cocktail of medications that leave her tired, trembling and nauseous.
But she survived. “No one thought I’d walk again. No one thought I’d talk again,” Rerecich says. “Statistically, I’m not supposed to be here. I know that I beat the odds.”
Today, Rerecich is 17 and readying for her senior year of high school in Tuscon, Ariz., where she also plans to work part-time as a special education teaching assistant. She plays guitar and piano, and has found friends who don’t make her feel like a “charity case,” she says.
Photo by Travis Fox
But the shadow of infection still looms. Since she has a weakened immune system, Rerecich has been advised to live near a hospital for the rest of her life. Her doctors say she should never become pregnant because the daily medications she takes cause severe birth defects. Still, Rerecich says she doesn’t live in fear.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t worry about the future anymore, because I don’t know if the future is certain or not,” she says. “It’s not written in cement.”
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Perron
Ricci with his family
In June 2011, David Ricci was volunteering at an orphanage in India when he was hit by a train that severly damaged his right leg. After an amputation in a nearby hospital, Ricci contracted an antiboitic-resistant infection that nearly took his life.
“I came to terms with it pretty quickly,” Ricci says. “There was no one to blame. I was just happy to be alive.”
Ricci returned home to Seattle, where he spent months battling the infection. Then, he began adjusting to life as an above-knee amputee.
Now 25, Ricci gets around with the help of a high-tech prosthetic leg called the Genium X3. Sometimes he limps when his nerve endings act up, and his left leg often aches under the added stress.
His experience has inspired him to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance and the growing threat it poses. Ricci is studying for a dual degree in neuroscience and microbiology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He says he wants to help advance policies to reduce antibiotic use and promote new drug development. He’s also traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stronger legislation to combat the problem.
“If people aren’t out there raising awareness and actively changing it, then the policies that allow these sort of behaviors to persist are going to continue and proliferate and get worse,” Ricci says.