Pennsylvania man's earache sign of rare infection: ‘It’s surreal how close I was to dying’

A 27-year-old Pennsylvania man is speaking out after he nearly lost his life to a rare syndrome that was triggered by a common ear infection.

Nick Sommons, a physically active Kingston, Pa., man who works as a DJ, told South West News Service (SWNS), a British news agency, that he developed a sore throat and earache in November 2018. Assuming it was nothing to worry about, he let it go for a few days. With no relief, he later went to see his doctor who prescribed him drops for an infection, which had caused the eardrum in his left ear to rupture.

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After not seeing any improvement in his left ear and noticing similar pain in his right, Sommons went back to the doctor who prescribed him steroids. Two weeks later, he was still unwell — and was getting worse.

Nick Sommons in hospital after he got blood clots in his brain from a severe, secondary infection associated with an ear infection.

Nick Sommons in hospital after he got blood clots in his brain from a severe, secondary infection associated with an ear infection. (SWNS)

“I was home and remember just wanting to sleep. I was turning yellow and breathing was getting hard. Just walking made it difficult for me to breathe. It was awful. It got to the point where I just wasn’t getting any better and needed to go to the emergency room,” he said.

A friend took Sommons to Geisinger Community Medical Center, where doctors were unable to pinpoint what was lamenting the man. With his condition steadily worsening, he was rushed to the specialist unit at Danville State Hospital where he arrived unconscious, according to SWNS.

Doctors were reportedly forced to put the man in a medically induced coma while they worked to determine what was sickening him. Eventually, they found the answer: Lemierre syndrome.

“I honestly can’t believe how close I was to dying," he said. (SWNS)

“I honestly can’t believe how close I was to dying," he said. (SWNS)

Lemierre syndrome, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD), is a “rare and potentially life-threatening complication of bacterial infections that usually affects previously healthy adolescents and young adults.” The condition typically develops in association with other infections, such as a throat infection, ear infection or sinus infection, among other types.

“In people with Lemierre syndrome, the initial infection spreads into tissues and deep spaces within the neck, leading to the formation of an infected blot clot (septic thrombophlebitis), sometimes made up of pus, in the internal jugular vein (the blood vessel that carries blood away from the brain, face, and neck),” as per GARD.

The infection led Sommons to develop clots in his brain.

Nick Sommons in hospital.

Nick Sommons in hospital. (SWNS)

“Lemierre Syndrome can be fatal and there was a very real chance I wouldn’t make it. It’s surreal how close I was to dying. The infection had attacked my brain and I had three clots,” he said.

“The doctors said they thought there would be no way I’d have a fully functional brain. They thought I’d have speech problems — it was likely I’d have a suppressed quality of life.”

Ten days later, Sommons woke from a coma — but he had a long road to recovery ahead of him. After he was released from the hospital, the 27-year-old said he was bed-ridden for four weeks and had to re-learn how to walk.

Nick Sommons before he fell ill. Since recovering, he has completed a Spartan race.

Nick Sommons before he fell ill. Since recovering, he has completed a Spartan race. (SWNS)

When he was well enough, Sommons said he used the experience to fuel his training for a Spartan race.

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“I used the experience to make me train harder. My goal was to become a faster runner,” he said. “I am incredibly thankful and so humbled by how I am still able to train at a high level.”

Continued Sommons: “I want to inspire other people who have been told they could have died. It has made me realize how life is fleeting and anything can happen at any time.”