Cecilia Garcia told the Dallas Morning News she wanted to die because the pain of her skin peeling off in sheets was just too unbearable. But instead, doctors fought to keep her alive by putting her into a drug-induced coma. For three weeks they watched and waited as Garcia’s body made a slow recovery. Garcia was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome, or SJS, a rare skin sensitivity disorder. What caused it, doctors say, was a simple medication to treat the common cold.
The medication, Bactrim, is a sulfa-based drug that has been associated with SJS. Thousands of drugs have been linked to the disorder, most commonly over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics. While the occurrence is rare – affecting about one person in a million each year – the disease can strike anyone.
SJS begins with a rash that blisters over, causing the skin to peel off in sheets. This exposes the body to life-threatening infections. The eyes, mouth and internal organs can also be affected, leading to dehydration and vision loss. While some people can make a full recovery, the condition leaves many disabled. Some, like 21-year-old electrician Cody Strickland, don’t survive. Strickland passed away in March after a medication to treat poison ivy triggered an SJS reaction.
It’s hard to say Garcia is the lucky one. She survived, but still suffers from the aftermath of SJS. Garcia’s eyelids are scarred and her eyelashes grow inward, scratching her corneas. She has limited vision, but can no longer bear even the light of day or the flicker of the television set. She would cry, she says, but is barely able to produce tears.