We often share eye-opening stories and talk a lot about the potential side effects of some medications – especially ones that have become commonplace and are prescribed so freely. The story we’re sharing today further highlights the potentially fatal dangers of painkillers that are currently on the market.
In January 2017, then-8-year-old Alexa Juckiewicz-Caspell from Essex, United Kingdom was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition known as Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN).
What Is Trigeminal Neuralgia?
It affects the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for carrying facial sensations to your brain. (Although, the true cause of trigeminal neuralgia is unclear.) People with TN who experience facial stimulation from something as simple as eating, shaving, applying eye cream, or brushing your teeth can suffer from bouts of agonizing jolt of pain.
Treatments vary from person to person because of different pain thresholds and that fact that TN tends to worsen over time. Usually, doctors will use anticonvulsant medication (i.e., for epilepsy) to help dull or numb the nervous system and reduce pain.
So, when Alexa was prescribed a painkiller, her 36-year-old mother, Kazmira, was shocked when the medication only made things worse – way worse. She said her daughter “had extreme burning pain behind her ear, across her face, and all the way down her neck. She explained it felt like someone was cutting her face.”
Doctors administered an EpiPen in hopes that the apparent allergic reaction would subside, but Alexa’s skin continued to break out in rashes and blisters. Kazmira was sending pictures to doctors at other hospitals in desperate need of an answer. But, nothing…
Turns Out the Allergic Reaction Triggered Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
In a desperate act to keep her alive, doctors put Alexa in a medically-induced coma.
“I had no idea what Stevens-Johnson syndrome was and when she was first put in a coma, the doctor told me it was unlikely that she would survive the night. I was terrified.”
She spent the majority of the following six weeks in hospital. During this time, “[Alexa] had to kept in the burn unit as they scrubbed her body of the burned skin, shaved her head and wrapped her in foil. It took them two weeks to get her eyes open,” along with her lips, which had become glued shut as a result of her condition.
What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?
It’s a rare skin and mucous membrane disorder that is usually caused by a reaction to an infection or medication. Many of the symptoms match ones that Alexa had:
- Sore mouth and throat
- Burning eyes
- Unexplained widespread skin pain
- Red or purplish rash that spreads
- Blisters on your skin, mouth, nose, eyes, and genitals
- Shedding of your skin within days after blisters form
More than one hundred drugs can cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, and some of the most common are:
- Anti-gout medications (e.g., allopurinol)
- Naproxen sodium
- Certain antibiotics (e.g., penicillin)
Over a year later, Alexa is back in school but it’s not all perfect. Many of her days are filled with doctor and specialist appointments, certain physical tasks are difficult because she gets weak quickly, and she has had to relearn basics such as breathing on her own, talking, talking, and eating. But her friends, family, and doctors are all baffled by how determined she has been and continues to be through her recovery.
“We are blessed and we take each day as it comes,” says Kazmira. “It is very hard, but we are strong.”
 Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, July 26). Trigeminal neuralgia. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/trigeminal-neuralgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353344
 What is Trigeminal Neuralgia? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tna.org.uk/what-is-trigeminal-neuralgia/
 Thompson, A. (2018, August 08). Girl nearly died after developing an allergic reaction to a painkiller. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6038793/Girl-nearly-died-developing-allergic-reaction-painkiller.html
 Girl’s horrific reaction to pain medication. (2018, August 09). Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/10yearolds-horrific-reaction-to-pain-medication/news-story/bc44b3bdb588a85d0958cd442abee9af
 Stevens-Johnson syndrome. (2018, March 09). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stevens-johnson-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20355936
 Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/stevens-johnson-syndrome#1
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