Doctors are still trying to figure out how Montana Smith, a healthy 14-year-old, ended up in the ICU after contracting a deadly bacterial infection.
Last September, Montana thought she came down with a cold. When the cold wouldn't let up, she went to Urgent Care for a strep test but it came back negative. The doctors advised her to do what anyone should do when battling the sniffles: take over-the-counter decongestants and stay hydrated. Smith did just that.
After spending a few days home sick to recuperate, she returned to school but found that it was unusually difficult to walk from class to class."I was really out of breath and I had to take breaks," Montana told . "All my friends were like, 'You need to go to the nurse.'"
The nurse sent Montana home from school. Within days, she felt better, so she joined her sisters and grandmother for a road trip from Warren, Ohio to Florida. The Smith family had a cruise planned, and Montana wasn't about to let her cold get in the way of a vacation.
But soon after arriving in Florida, she had an enlarged rash on her legs. Her mom, Crystal, gave her Benadryl and it went away. By the next day, however, she had trouble walking and breathing.
Instead of boarding their cruise that day, Montana's mom rushed her daughter to the hospital.
"She did, at one point in the emergency room, ask the doctors if she was going to die. To hear your child ask that is something that no parent should have to see or go through," Crystal told TODAY.
To get a closer look at what was causing Montana's respiratory issues, doctors performed an echocardiogram, an ultrasound test that takes pictures of the chambers of the heart. The results were shocking: Montana had , an infection in a heart valve or blood vessel that occurs after bacteria enters the blood.
At this point, the majority of Montana's pulmonary valve was gone. Although this deadly condition is unusual — especially for healthy teens — doctors believe the cold symptoms Montana had "may actually have been the endocarditis affecting her lungs."
"She was one of the rare cases where she was an otherwise healthy teenager who had bad luck and bacteria got into her bloodstream and attached to her heart," Dr. Elizabeth "Tess" Saarel, chair of pediatric cardiology at , told TODAY.
The only way to fix her faulty valve was with intensive open heart surgery. This was even trickier in Montana's case because she had a lingering infection in her lungs. Doctors knew the longer they waited to fix the valve, the worse it would get. They successfully replaced the valve, but Montana struggled with septic shock.
She spent the next month in the pediatric cardiac ICU on bedrest. Once she had a clean bill of health, Montana moved to rehab hospital where she re-learned how to eat, breathe, and walk. She finally returned home to her family on December 20, just in time for the holidays."It was the best day ever beside the day of her being born," Crystal told TODAY.
Doctors haven't figured out the cause of Montana's health scare but they're urging all people with lingering — or worsening — colds to pay close attention to their symptoms. If a cold lasts more than seven to 10 days with no improvement, Saarel suggests that you go to the doctor. Although bacterial endocarditis is extremely rare, it can be contracted through cuts, sores, brushing teeth, or skin disorders.