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Girl recovering from spider bite, likely a black widow, that left a nasty mark

The first sign that something was wrong was a small, purple mark on the back of Kailyn Donovan's right knee.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

The first sign that something was wrong was a small, purple mark on the back of Kailyn Donovan's right knee. The 5-year-old girl's mother, Kristine Donovan, became alarmed as the mark grew uglier and angrier as it spread over her leg. When Kailyn developed a fever a few days later, her pediatrician sent her immediately to the ER.

No one yet realized the girl was likely suffering from the bite of a venomous black widow spider.

It was a scary few days last week before 5-year-old Kailyn Donovan was diagnosed with a spider bite and treated.Courtesy of Kristine Donovan

“We never in a million years thought it would be a black widow spider,” Kristine Donovan, of Mendon, Massachusetts, told TODAY. “I’m relieved it’s over and that she’s healing.”

It started early last week, when Kailyn complained that her jeans hurt. Her parents thought the pants were too tight and had pinched her knee. But that night, while checking the girl for ticks, Kristine noticed the bruise-like purple mark.

“We never thought it was a bite or anything at the beginning,” Donovan said. “There was no bite mark.”

The ER doctors recognized the symptoms of a spider bite, but “they didn’t know what spider had bit her.”

They prescribed antibiotics, but Kailyn went back to the hospital the next day because she was still sick. She was then given intravenous antibiotics and sent home with more medicine.

By Friday, Kailyn's fever was gone and it was her big day to graduate from preschool. After graduation, though, the skin was reddening and Donovan felt in her gut that her daughter needed further treatment.

“I had a feeling that the bite didn’t look right,” Kristine said. “It started to get really nasty.”

Kailyn Donovan's dad had been clearing part of their woodsy backyard may have stirred up the earth, disturbing a spider, said Kristine Donovan.Courtesy of Kristine Donovan

Kristine took Kailyn to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, where her daughter was admitted and given a different antibiotic. On Saturday morning, Dr. William Durbin a pediatric infectious disease specialist, diagnosed her with a spider bite — most likely a black widow.

“I didn’t think they were around here,” Kristine said. “I was pretty shocked.”

Durbin sees two or three cases of black widow bites a year, and unlike bug bites or bee stings, the spider venom can cause skin necrosis, when the skin dies and turns black. On the back of Kailyn’s knee, her skin was black, the dark area surrounded by skin that was red and inflamed, a likely infection.

“That’s a very unusual and distinct reaction,” Durbin told TODAY, of the localized skin necrosis. “I diagnosed her with a spider bite, presumably a black widow because that’s the only spider in New England that I know of that causes this kind of reaction.”

Kailyn was treated with antibiotics for the skin infection but there was no treatment for the bite itself.

“She was not severely ill,” Durbin said of Kailyn. “The bite looks nasty, but it wasn’t causing any serious illness in her.”

Black widow spiders can be found throughout the United States, but are most commonly found in the South and West. The venomous spiders are often found in outdoor structures like barns, sheds and fences.

Kristine says her husband had been clearing part of their woodsy backyard to make space for their children to play and may have stirred up the earth, disturbing a spider.

Kristine hopes Kailyn’s story will encourage parents to keep seeking answers if their children are unwell.

“We just want parents to trust your instincts,” she said. “If you feel something doesn’t look right, just keep going to the doctor to find out what it is.”

As for Kailyn, who spent one night in the hospital, she’s doing great.

“She’s back to her old self,” Donovan said. “She wants to go out and play.” contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.