Robot protects 8-year-old with brain tumor from deadly infection

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — 1.7-million Americans will pick up infections at the hospital this year, often antibiotic resistant superbugs hard to disinfect, that can potentially be fatal.

That has apparently happened to an 8-year-old Texas boy. During the time he was receiving chemotherapy for his brain cancer, he got c-Diff, a superbug that kills one in ten people who get it, and lingers on surfaces for months. But Aydan Chapman is home safe now, his entire house disinfected by a superbug zapping robot.

The San Antonio based company Xenex recently sold its disinfecting robots to St. Davids in Austin. Within minutes, they can disinfect a hospital room for anything from Ebola, c-Diff, MRSA, norovirus, even Anthrax. Also this fall, Aydan Chapman learned that he had acquired c-Diff, around the time of his chemo treatment at Dell Children’s Medical Center. Dell confirmed the infection. Aydan had already endured four brain tumors since 2009, now he is enduring chemo and strong antibiotics for the superbug.

While effective against germs, the UVC rays are also dangerous for humans; rooms must be emptied before the robot can begin cleaning. (Photo: KXAN)
While effective against germs, the UVC rays are also dangerous for humans; rooms must be emptied before the robot can begin cleaning. (Photo: KXAN)

Bryce Chapman, Aydan’s father, is hearing impaired but through a Community Service for the Deaf sign reader, said, “It was extremely frustrating to see what was happening with him. It was actually two to three weeks before we learned he had the c-Diff, so he had gone through so much at this point. It felt like he was getting hit by more than one thing.”

Xenex learned of what happened. In four short years, they have sold the UVC emitting robots to 300 hospitals, including M.D. Anderson, the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where an Ebola patient died, to the UCLA Medical Center, and others. But occasionally they do pro bono work in homes and high schools. On Friday, they disinfected Aydan’s home, zapping it from top to bottom in one afternoon.

Xenex vice president Ryan N. Williams believes hospitals too often shortchange their cleaning efforts.

“Hospitals are not doing the best they can to be able to eliminate these infections. The incidents of these super bugs and resistant bacteria in the environment has been on the rise. Traditional cleaning and the incidents of human error and oversight is just not good enough.”

Aydan, a third grader, homeschools for now but he and his family rest easier knowing that while he continues his chemo, c-Diff may be the least of his worries.

“It’s absolutely given us peace of mind. Definitely. Now we know our house is peaceful and clean for Aydan,” Aydan’s dad says.

When asked how he is feeling these days, Aydan says, “I don’t know how to explain it.”

He nodded when asked if he misses school.

“I don’t get to see my friends and I don’t get to do the regular things I do at school.”

His favorite part of school? “Recess, and math. Because I’m really good at it,” he says with a smile.

Taking a deeper look at the growing problem of hospital infections: c-Diff is the most common infection caught in American hospitals. It leads to 14,000 deaths a year. In a major study, the University of Texas College of Pharmacy found c-Diff infections doubled in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, rising from 4.5 patients per thousand visits, to 8.2 patients.

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