At just 12 years old, the future for Dakarai looks different than he thought it would. In the last 10 months, doctors amputated both legs of this aspiring athlete, who loves playing football, basketball and baseball, after he mysteriously contracted necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacterial disease.
When everything changed
In August 2016, Dakarai developed a sore throat. An initial visit to a local hospital attributed it to asthma. Within days, his legs began hurting and he developed severe swelling. “His knees were like a football, swollen tight and filled with so much fluid,” said his mom, Charmaine. Dakarai’s feet were numb and his left foot began turning black. Within 15 minutes of being seen at the emergency room at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, Charmaine said doctors began appearing.
“About 15 doctors rushed in to him...you know it’s something when you see so many doctors come into the emergency room. Dakarai had to go into surgery right away, two hours after we arrived.” Doctors told Charmaine the infection was eating away the muscle and tissue in his legs and backside, and even his left arm. Dakarai’s life was in danger. They amputated his left leg within days.
While Dakarai recovered from surgery and began rehabilitation following the amputation, the family knew his right leg was also at risk. “We had time to think about it…if we wanted to make this decision for his right leg to be amputated," Charmaine said. "We waited and hoped he would be able to keep the leg. But as the days went on, it was like a dead weight on his body.”
A social worker told the family about Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, and Charmaine had seen commercials that highlighted Shriners Hospitals' care for children in the areas of limb differences and prosthetics. When the time came to get a second opinion, Dakarai's family chose the Chicago Shriners Hospital because of their experience and because of how much they do for patients and their families beyond just typical care.
Instead of a standard amputation of the right leg, Lee Alkureishi, M.D., a Shriners Hospital pediatric plastic surgeon with a focus on complex wound care, and Gregory Dumanian, M.D., also used microsurgery techniques to transfer skin and tissue from the amputated leg to cover wounds on Dakarai’s thigh, which will help in his recovery.
Throughout Dakarai's ordeal, this resilient young boy and his parents have maintained a positive attitude. His dad and cousin came up with a hashtag, which has become their motto: #KARAIStrong. Dakarai explains it’s actually an acronym. It stands for: Kids Are Really Amazing Individuals - Smart through rough obstacles never giving up
Dakarai’s positive attitude was noticed by the Chicago Shriners Hospital team. It’s part of why Dakarai, along with his mom and his dad, Dakarai Sr., represented Shriners Hospitals in June at NASCAR’s FireKeepers Casino 400 Race. Dakarai hung out with racecar driver and Shriner David Ragan, took a pace car lap and enjoyed a behind the scenes look at racing at the Michigan International Speedway. “Dakarai and his dad like racing. He collects racing cars,” Charmaine said. “When they called us and told us about this opportunity to attend the race, he was super happy,” Charmaine explained.
The race also marked the debut of Ragan driving a Shriners Hospitals for Children decorated car in the race, while the family watched from the stands. "When you see a young kid like Dakarai, 12 years old, he's lost both of his legs and he's just as happy as anybody here today. So that just shows you how they have a great staff that can do amazing work on young kids," David Ragan told the Detroit Free Press at the event.
During their visits to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, Dakarai Jr. and the family developed a close relationship with Dr. Alkureishi. “He was like a doctor and a friend. That’s how we look at him,” Charmaine said. “They bonded and connected.”
Her advice to other parents: “Going with Shriners Hospitals is the right thing. The doctors are amazing. You’ll feel at ease and comfortable with the doctors.”
For now, Dakarai is focusing on healing his surgical wounds and getting his body strong again. He is doing physical therapy several times a week in his hometown. Down the road Dakarai is determined to walk again with prosthetics, and the Chicago Shriners Hospital team will be there every step of the way.