When 6-year-old Ohio-native Tessa Puma came down with flu-like symptoms last week, her parents thought she had, well, the flu. But when Tessa, a bubbly little girl and avid dancer, began complaining about severe pain in her arms and legs, they knew she was fighting something much more serious.
Tessa's parents took her to two hospitals before a doctor was able to tell them what was wrong with their daughter, ABC News reports.
"They did some more tests and confirmed she had the flu and saw she had some kind of infection," Tessa's father, Matt Puma, told ABC News. "She spent a couple of days in the hospital, and her leg got worse and worse."
It turns out, unrelated to having the flu — and far more alarming — Tessa was battling something called necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but serious infection in which a "flesh-eating bacteria," as it's often called, spreads quickly and kills off the body's soft tissues.
Tessa's pain became so severe that she would scream when someone so much as touched her leg. The little girl's doctors decided to take her into surgery to relieve the swelling. But when they went in, the doctors realized just how damaged her muscles were.
Unfortunately, they knew their best bet was to remove her left leg from the knee down.
The 6-year-old's doctors believe that it was an earlier case of strep throat Tessa suffered about a month before that actually caused her infection. It might sound far-fetched, but it makes sense: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, necrotizing fasciitis occurs when bacteria from another infection (such as strep) finds its way into a person's bloodstream and begins to attack tissue, nerves, fat, and blood vessels as it moves through the body.
This week, Tessa is undergoing a second surgery, this time to create skin grafts and "clean up" her amputation so she'll be able to wear a prosthetic leg in the future, the Akron Beacon Journal reports. She has a long period of recovery and physical rehabilitation ahead, but her parents have no doubt she'll return to dancing as soon as she can.
"She's such a bright young girl with amazing abilities," Tessa's mom, Tina Puma, told the Journal. "This is just a small setback, but I guarantee she will still be able to do her dreams, because she's a determined little girl who never gives up on anything she puts her mind to. We think this is just going to be part of her story."
[h/t ABC News]