Until the day he died, Simon Sparrow was a robust baby boy whose only health issue was a touch of asthma and a lingering throat infection
It only took 24 hours for a “superbug” called MRSA to take him away.
“He was a big, big, very healthy, big-built boy,” Simon’s mom, Everly Macario, told NBC News.
Nothing suggested the toddler should have been particularly susceptible to an infection.
“He was born full term. He had all his vaccinations. I breast-fed him exclusively for his full year-and-a-half of life. He didn't have any underlying diseases,” says Macario, a Chicago-based public health consultant.
“I know mothers think all their children are gorgeous, but I think he was particularly gorgeous.”
Superbugs like the infection that killed the baby with big, melting brown eyes are a global threat, the World Health Organization says. This week, members of the United Nations agreed to make the issue a priority for their countries.
Simon had been recovering from a throat infection that had made it hard to breathe and Macario had no idea he was infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
"Simon woke up not acting like himself and my husband was really worried, so he actually decided to take him to the emergency room," Macario told NBC News.
The previously bright, healthy toddler was dead within a day.
"It's a parent's worst nightmare," said Macario, who has now become an advocate for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Doctors also didn’t suspect MRSA and sent them home — even after Macario’s husband Jim Sparrow pointed out that Simon’s lips looked bluish.
“Throughout that afternoon Simon just was more and more irritable, and he was having more and more of a hard time breathing and at one point, I touched his face, and it was ice cold and I freaked out, Macario said.
An ambulance came at once. Doctors were no longer so relaxed.
“When we arrived in the emergency room, suddenly it was an onslaught of medical people that just surrounded Simon, and I'm not really sure how they knew this exactly, but they kept repeating, ‘your son is very, very sick, your son is very, very sick’,” Macario said.
Simon was put on a ventilator to help him breathe. Doctors knew he had a serious infection that had spread to his bloodstream and caused an immune overreaction, a condition called sepsis.
Despite emergency measures that including putting the baby on a heart-lung machine, Simon died.
"I want people to wake up and realize that this isn't something that happens to other people,” Macario said.
“The crazy part of it was that he died and nobody knew the cause of death at that time. So we agreed to an autopsy and about two months later, we got the results back saying that he had contracted an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA,” Macario said.
She had a Ph.D in public health from Harvard University but hadn’t heard of MRSA.
“I didn't realize the extent of the antibiotic resistance problem,” she added.
Macario, who is now a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, wants everybody to know.
“One of my goals would be that every household in the United States would know the acronym MRSA the way they know the acronym AIDS,” she said.
Overuse of antibiotics
On Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to take "a broad, coordinated approach" against bacteria and viruses that have evolved to resist the effects of drugs.
Such drug-resistant germs have developed as people pop antibiotics to treat colds, the flu, ear infections and various other ills caused by viruses and fungi that are not affected by the drugs.
Doctors complain that people demand antibiotics to treat infections that clearly are not caused by bacteria, yet still succumb and prescribe them incorrectly a third of the time, the CDC has found.
So bacteria evolve inside your body every time you don’t finish a full course of antibiotics, and can invisibly mutate when you pull out a leftover bottle of antibiotics from the medicine cabinet, take one or two and then stop when you feel better.
Even if these drug-resistant strains growing inside of you don’t make you sick, you can pass them to other people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in the U.S. alone, more than two million people are infected by drug-resistant germs each year, and 23,000 die of their infections. Globally, these antibiotic-resistant microbes kill 700,000 people a year.
Bacteria will evolve
The last really new class of antibiotics was invented in 1984, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. And even as new drugs come out, bacteria will always evolve to evade their effects.
“The situation isn't going to get any better unless we reduce the use of antibiotics greatly and that means reducing the overuse of antibodies both in human medicine and in factory farms,” Macario said.
An estimated 80 percent of antibiotics made today are fed to farm animals not to treat them for diseases but because they make them grow fatter.
“It's kind of ironic, but we really should only be using antibiotics when every last possible option alternative has failed,” Macario said.
It’s been 12 years and she thinks of Simon daily.
“He would be almost 14. He would be entering high school,” Macario muses.
“When I see my other kids, I wonder if Simon would be playing soccer with Dylan or what instrument would he be playing,” she adds.
“Nothing could have prepared us for a parent’s worst nightmare.”