Lewis Griswold

Lew Griswold: Lime burns land Lemoore girls in hospital

Five Lemoore girls got face time on national TV last week because "Good Morning America" did a story about mysterious skin eruptions that landed them in the hospital.

The girls, ages 7 to 11, developed severe blisters and painful rashes over much of their bodies, prompting their worried parents to take them to the hospital.

Initially, doctors were stumped by what they saw.

The saga began Aug. 17 when Stephanie Ellwanger arranged a pool party for her daughters Jewels, 11, and Jazmyn, 9, at their grandmother's home, and invited friends Reyghan Sprague, 8, and Bailey and Kandice Kinser, 9 and 7.

For fun, the children pulled limes from a tree and started playing with them.

"The kids were picking up limes and rolling them and hitting them with rocks to get the juice out," said Denise Kinser, mother of Bailey and Kandice. They sucked on the limes and squeezed juice into cups and pretended to have a tea party, she said.

That night at home, Bailey and Kandice complained of pain on their hands and knees.

Their mom inspected: "It was the oddest looking sunburn I'd ever seen," she said. She put on aloe and gave them children's Tylenol.

"It didn't ease the pain," Kinser said.

The next morning, Bailey became ill. That night, Kandice woke up screaming in pain.

"It feels like a bunch of knives are going into my hand at once, as if I'm pushing on them," she said.

By the third day, blisters and rashes covered both girls' hands, arms, face and legs.

Their mother took them to the emergency room at Adventist Health Medical Center in Hanford, where doctors sent the girls by ambulance to the burn center at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.

Burn staff gave Bailey and Kandice intravenous morphine to ease the pain, Kinser said.

By now, Kinser had called Ellwanger, who said her children had rashes, especially around the lips.

Reyghan had severe rash and blisters.

"It's a parent's worst nightmare," said Reyghan's mother, Melinda McDaniel. "Not knowing what caused this, it was gut-wrenching."

Ellwanger returned to the pool and scooped up anything she could think of, including pool chemicals, sunscreen and limes.

Meanwhile, a friend had typed "lime burns" into Google, and Ellwanger's sister texted her the resulting Internet link: "phytophotodermatitis." The symptoms matched perfectly.

That's the right diagnosis, said Dr. Greg Simpson, a dermatologist at University of California San Francisco-Fresno, who assisted in the children's care.

"I see about four cases a year," he said, although this was the first he's seen involving children -- and the most extensive.

Usually, the patient is "an adult drinking a Corona with a lime and it sprays onto the legs," he said.

Citrus, celery and even weeds contain chemicals that become toxic when exposed to ultraviolet light, causing "a supercharged sunburn with blistering," he said.

Kandice spent eight days in the hospital, Bailey seven days and Reyghan four. Jewels and Jazmyn spent the night. Their blisters are gone, but it can take a year for the skin to fully heal, Simpson said.

After Hanford Sentinel reporter Joe Johnson wrote a front-page story about the medical mystery for last weekend's paper, KFSN (Channel 30.1), the Valley's ABC station, interviewed the girls and their parents.

"Good Morning America," which monitors news at ABC stations, "spotted that one," Channel 30 news director Mike Carr said. "They asked for our video and sound bites."

The Kinser family recorded the "Good Morning America" segment, and Bailey and Kandice like to watch it.

"It was cool" to be on TV, Bailey said. "Everyone in the world is going to see it."

But their mother said the news story should be a cautionary tale for other parents: "Don't let your kids play with any citrus or celery out in the sun."