Toddler endures bacteria and open-heart surgery

About three months ago, a white, bumpy rash appeared on 2-year-old Zane Gersch's face, from her nose to her cheek. Her mother, Cailen Gersch, thought it was just a heat rash, the girl had been running a high fever for a day.

Soon, the rash spread to her collar bone. Then to her arm, past her diaper and onto her legs.

"It was going all over her body, all the hot spots," said her mother. "The whole time she was feeble and crying out to us. She temporarily lost consciousness."

The auburn-haired, blue-eyed girl was running a temperature of 101 degrees. The Tylenol wasn't working. Three days into the fever and rash, they took Zane to the emergency room at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center. There she had a temperature of 104.

Doctors had no answers yet. This is something that every mother fears. Dread overwhelmed her. She could lose her baby girl over this. The continuous rash was a symptom of a mysterious medical ailment.

"Three days later they discovered she was growing MRSA in her blood," she said.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a strain of the staph bacteria that has developed an antibiotic resistance to all penicillin. It's called a superbug and is often picked up in a hospital setting. Zane hadn't been at a hospital since she was born.

Zane, named after Western author Zane Grey, was born on Jan. 25, 2005, a "perfectly healthy" little girl. Her parents call her a maniac. She fetches toys in her mouth like a puppy. She loves to play hide and seek. She colors outside the lines. When music comes on, her parents can't tear her away from the TV.

When a child gets sick - parents become experts in the ways of the hospital. Gersch, a 24-year-old former barista at a downtown coffee shop, learned about blood cultures and echocardiograms.

With a bacteria such as the one Zane had caught, doctors need to take a picture of the heart.

They found three abscesses in Zane's arteries. Doctors were concerned they could break off and clog elsewhere.

On March 1, Zane was transferred to Renown Regional Medical Center. They ran a CAT scan of her head and found she was bleeding in the brain. Renown decided she needed higher care, so she was transferred to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University.

A team of infectious-disease specialists at the Intensive Care Unit started the little girl on a triple therapy of antibiotics to fight the resistant staph. That went on for three weeks. Zane's blood still grew the bacteria in blood cultures. The abscesses were growing.

When tragedy struck this family, it seemed to come all at once. Through all this, the family had no steady income because David Gersch had been starting his handyman business in Carson City. Rent and utilities are getting harder to cover with both of them out of work.

Gersch's last day of work was Jan. 19. She had no health insurance. Gersch is expecting her third child next week. Both she and Zane have Medicaid.

Stanford doctors performed open-heart surgery on Zane on March 22. They removed three abscesses in the heart, including one that had grown on a valve. A piece of the valve had to be removed and pulled tighter. The abscess had been eating away at her valve.

Zane has a five-inch pinkish scar from her collar bone to the bottom of her rib cage. She is bandaged with sterile tape. Out of the left side of her chest protrudes a catheter and two white cords. It's through the ports on these cords that Zane receives antibiotics straight to her heart.

"Every day is just another day now," Gersch said. "It's not as stressful as before the surgery. She was sick, not wanting to do anything. She barely knew who I was. Now she's a very demanding 2-year-old who will have a scar on her chest for the rest of her life."

Before Zane can come home to Carson City the family must find a nurse to check her Broviac catheter. Zane must receive the antibiotics for the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Gersch is looking forward to leaving the hospital, before she has to return again to have James Dustin.

You can help

Zane Gersch's donation fund:

The 2-year-old has an account at US Bank to pay for uncovered medical expenses, travel and other hardships faced by the family, such as rent and utilities.

Account number: 153752589009

Routing number: 121201694

For information call: 230-4608

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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