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DIANNE KLEIN

Involuntary Prisoner Tries to Make Contact From Isolation

June 17, 1993|DIANNE KLEIN

Mika Leigh Yoshida, the honor student, swimmer, organizer and perfectionist, the 16-year-old high school sophomore with all the friends and the bright ideas, went someplace last December where she'd never been before.

She didn't want to go, but she was dragged there suddenly, alone. It was dark and terrifying, this strange place on the bottom, painful, and Mika almost didn't come back. Sometimes the thought of dying would float over her disguised as relief.

She's back now, at home in Fountain Valley, mending. And she is changed, profoundly and forever.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome, an illness so rare that the physicians who treated Mika would flip through medical encyclopedias for guidance, is why. Changed for the better might be how.

I say this after talking with her and her family the other day.

In December, Mika went to her regular pediatrician for treatment of a minor ear infection. The doctor prescribed a strong dose of Biaxin, or clarithromycin, a relatively new antibiotic. The visit was routine.

But the drug seemed to be giving Mika chills, nausea and shortness of breath. Still, when Mika's mother, Robin Yoshida, called the pharmacist the next day, he told her that such side effects were normal and that they would pass.

They did not. By the fourth day, Mika's ankles were swelling, and her mother took her to another pediatrician, on a Sunday morning. He diagnosed Stevens-Johnson, caused by the drug and sent them to the hospital immediately.

By then serum was seeping from Mika's skin, and the critical care hospital team found that she was extremely dehydrated. This was in spite of swelling so severe that Mika's eyes had closed and water concentrated in her skin added 10 pounds to her weight.

She was fading in and out of consciousness when, finally, doctors managed to find a vein for an I.V. by cutting into her thigh.

More than six months after that day, Mika can still not resume classes at Fountain Valley High School. Her illness has left her severely allergic to most everything--dust, pollen, medications, heat, foods--and addicted to prednisone, a steroid that suppresses her immune system. Her doctors have told her she must move to a climate that is foggy and cool.

The air in the family home is now conditioned and filtered, bed sheets are changed every day, shoes are left at the door, and the dogs and cat have been banned to the outdoors.

Mika's life depends on all this now.

But, no, she does not want to sue.

(Another family successfully did so after their 6-year-old daughter died of Stevens-Johnson at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center in 1988).

Mika just wants to talk with other students who are isolated, homebound by circumstances beyond their control. Like Mika, these people would naturally understand that a friend doesn't just call to brag about a prom dress, or to recruit an ally in an adolescent quarrel over a boy.

"I don't want their sympathy," Mika says of her fair-weather friends. "But it would be nice if somebody understood."

They might start by understanding what it's like to drop out of a normal life of high school, athletics, social clubs, shopping, movies and just hanging out. They would understand what it's it like to outgrow the trivia on which so many young lives hinge.

They would understand what it is like to be so alone.

None of this is easy for Mika to talk about, even now. But the old Mika, the logical, clear-thinking one, the planner, is coming back. She says she'd rather reach out to other kids now, in a friendly form of self-therapy, than "deal with it later on."

She's thinking of maybe a newsletter for students "who've gone through some sort of life changing situation" and are stuck at home. She's drafted an open letter inviting a response.

"Even if you aren't ready to write or express your thoughts and feelings about whatever it is you've been through, feel free to write to me if you're interested in receiving the newsletter or starting up a correspondence," she writes.

Gerry Alridge, Mika's home tutor, who thought up a similar idea several years ago, went to the Huntington Beach Union High School District to ask if she could distribute Mika's letter to the district's other homebound kids.

And the district said, essentially, "Uh, well, gee. . ." But now, just before the end of the school year, they have decided that home tutors may distribute the letters if they feel it is appropriate for their students.

Mika, who has also recently discovered the exhilarating sense of connection that a computer modem can bring, is hoping that will be the case. She knows how tough it can be for kids like herself to come back whole.

And Gerry, too, has a clue. She asked Mika to write about it last month, and when Mika said that she just couldn't, Gerry assigned it to her instead. And Mika, ever the obliging student, did.

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