Starting From Square One

It seemed so obvious. Six-yearold Samantha Corley − Sami to her friends and family − just had the flu. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Sami’s case of the flu turned out instead to be a serious autoimmune disorder that required a team of dedicated specialists at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco to determine the underlying culprit and ultimately cure her illness.

As her parents, Brian and Zephra, recall, in mid-August, after Sami had run a high fever for a few days, they took her to their pediatrician. The doctor tried several different types of antibiotics over a few weeks, but nothing worked.

“The [doctors] knew how confused and terrified we were...we put our full trust in them.” –Brian, Sami's Dad

Within 24 hours, Sami’s fever spiked, and she developed a lump the size of a golf ball in her neck. This time, she was admitted to her local hospital, where she underwent tests for all kinds of infectious diseases, but doctors could not locate the source of the problem. And rather than helping with the symptoms, the antibiotics were causing debilitating side effects. Sami was not eating, her skin was turning gray, and a terrible rash had spread all over her body. That’s when she was transferred to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

“I remember seeing a video of a UCSF researcher saying, ‘When doctors are dealing with unknown medical mysteries, patients find themselves on a diagnostic odyssey.’ That’s exactly what happened to us − until we came here,” says Brian.

As soon as Sami was admitted, a team of specialists went right to work, essentially starting from square one. “They knew how confused and terrified we were,” says Brian. “We put our full trust in them when they said, ‘We will find out what’s wrong with Sami, and we will treat it.’”

“We knew the key wasn’t more blood tests,” says pediatrician Tim Kelly, MD. “Instead we used a process that involves removing the enlarged lymph node in her neck and studying the tissue.”

This delicate surgery led the team to discover that a rare autoimmune disorder called Kikuchi-Fujimoto disease had attacked Sami’s lymph nodes. “Once we removed the lymph node and stopped the antibiotics, which were causing a severe rash and other problems, she made a full recovery,” notes Dr. Kelly.

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, we are often the last hope for children like Sami, who end up on that terrifying diagnostic odyssey that takes them from doctor to doctor, clinic to clinic, test after test, with no conclusive results.

“We get diagnostic dilemmas all the time,” says Dr. Kelly. “Our researchers constantly seek to discover new information in order to unravel the complex puzzles in health. They have a passion for figuring things out, and they will absolutely never give up.”