Woman vows to ‘out race’ effects of Stevens Johnson Syndrome

On September 21, 2008, Kendra Schmidt was pushed in a wheelchair through the track of the Fox Cities Marathon. “My sister ran it that year and my husband (Mike) pushed me,” she told the Post Crescent. But Kendra was determined. “I knew I’d run in it eventually.”

It was a tall order for the young woman who at the time was in physical therapy three times a week. Just three months earlier she had suddenly and unexpected developed a severe reaction to a new prescription medication. A rash developed over 95 percent of her body and nearly all of her skin peeled away. She was diagnosed with toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), the most serious form of Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS). Both are rare but life threatening allergic reactions to medication that affect about one in a million people each year. Kendra was moved to a burn unit and was sedated for more than two months as her skin, thanks to grafts of pig skin, gradually grew back.

“You burn from the inside out,” she said. “I not only lost my outer skin, but (also) the inside of my mouth and esophagus. I don’t have fingernails. I had to learn to walk again and eat and talk.” Kendra’s eyes were also damaged by rashes and blisters. She wears a prosthetic over her left eye and a special lens over her right. She is lucky to have survived in the first place. SJS/TEN accounts for as many as 150,000 deaths each year.

Despite her lingering side effects from SJS/TEN, Kendra seems stronger for having endured such pain. Last year Kendra competed in the Fox Cities 5K event. Now she has her sights on bigger things. “I said I’d run the half marathon this year,” she said. Kendra is currently training to do just that this September.