Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 17, 2024 ·  4 min read

Endocarditis Linked to Metal from Braces of 15-Year-Old Leah Kitchen

This article was originally published in March 2018 and has since been updated.

In 2018, what was supposed to be a quick stop at the dentist’s office soon spiraled downward when 15-year-old Leah Kitchen fell ill. Everyone knows routine visits to tighten braces are necessary. However, for Leah, one of these visits ultimately affected her quality of life.

Within one week of having her braces tightened, she started experiencing seemingly out-of-the-blue symptoms, including:[1]

  • High-temperature fever
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Uncontrollable vomiting

As any worried mother would have done, 42-year-old Andrea brought her daughter to an after-hours nurse who lived near them in Hull, United Kingdom. But, according to The Sun, the doctor simply sent Leah home with some meds and a flu diagnosis.

Over the next few days, Leah grew increasingly forgetful and confused – not particularly “flu symptoms” you would expect to encounter. Again, Andrea’s mother took precautions had Leah get bloodwork done at Hull Royal Infirmary.

“She was asking when we had got a new washing machine and a new carpet.” (Even though they hadn’t.)

“I took her to Hull Royal where she had a CRP blood test. Where her levels were meant to be zero, they were 260.”[2]

Initially, doctors fearfully suspected that Leah might have the rare infection meningitis. However, Leah’s MRI scan and lumbar (spine) puncture test results revealed her symptoms were a result of something else entirely…

“You think, ‘oh my God something is going to happen to my baby.’ This kind of thing changes you as a person.”

How Leah Kitchen Contracted Endocarditis

endocarditis symptoms

After analyzing Leah’s results, doctors revealed that her spine had been infected, which led to some devastating health problems.

“They found she had an infection in her spine to her brain which meant she had had two mini-strokes. They also found she had some vegetation on her heart from the metal on the braces – which must have been very sharp – and that had jumped to her brain. It was this that was causing the confusion.”[2]

Based on the tests, doctors diagnosed Leah with a potentially fatal bacterial infection called endocarditis. With endocarditis, the heart’s inner lining (i.e., the endocardium) becomes inflamed.

Common Symptoms of Endocarditis

In addition to the symptoms Leah exhibited above, they can also include:[3]

  • Heart murmur
  • Pale skin
  • Night sweats
  • Nausea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Feeling full in the upper left part of your abdomen
  • Swollen abdomen, feet, and legs

On December 1, 2017, medics transferred Leah to Leeds General Infirmary and by January 1, 2018, she was home. But it was not an easy month and a half by any stretch.

“They took me to one side and said they would have to operate immediately, but they would have to prep for [open-heart] surgery which would take two and a half hours… I had to sign a form to say that if anything happened to her during that time, it wouldn’t be the responsibility of the hospital… I was just thinking, ‘please be fixed, please be fixed.’”[1]


In total, the surgery lasted five-and-a-half hours! Although she’s “90 percent back to her normal self,” says Andrea, it seems like the rest of Leah’s life will be filled with doctor appointments and check-ups. They’re staying positive and keeping the silver lining in sight, so much so that the mother-daughter duo has started fundraising to raise awareness of endocarditis for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund.

“My main concern is the children who have braces, but it can happen from piercings and tattoos too. If this makes just one person think of the signs… if it is caught quickly, it doesn’t have to get to this stage.”

Surprising Causes of Endocarditis

Leah Kitchen’s family believes that metal from her braces is what caused her inflammatory bacterial infection. However, there are other more common causes of endocarditis that the average person should be aware of, such as:[3]

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Gum disease or overall poor oral hygiene
  • Cuts in your gums
  • Basically, anywhere germs can enter your bloodstream

How to Prevent Endocarditis

Just as Leah’s mother highlighted, piercings and tattoos can increase your risk of getting endocarditis. So can IV drug use or any other medical procedures that let germs into your bloodstream. As a rule of thumb, practice healthy oral hygiene habits and visit your dentist regularly.


  1. [1] Parry, L., & Digital Health. (2018, March 06). Teenager nearly dies after her ‘BRACES trigger killer heart infection’. Retrieved from
  2. [3] Endocarditis: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Diagnosis. (n.d.). Retrieved from