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Queens woman triumphs over life-threatening disease

From front left: LIJ Forest Hills Dr. Narissa Joyner; Dr. Michael Cooper, director, Regional Burn Center at Staten Island University Hospital; Dominique Strickland, patient and now Northwell employee; and Star Lentz, RN.
From front left: LIJ Forest Hills Dr. Narissa Joyner; Dr. Michael Cooper, director, Regional Burn Center at Staten Island University Hospital; Dominique Strickland, patient and now Northwell employee; and Star Lentz, RN.

Forest Hills, Staten Island provide critical care for rare condition

FOREST HILLS, NY —

Dominique Strickland, 34, of Far Rockaway, Queens, will always be grateful to Northwell Health and the medical staff who not only saved her life but provided the incentive for a new career in health care.

During an emotional ceremony held at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills (LIJFH), Ms. Strickland received warm accolades from members of the medical staff for completing one year of service with the health system. It was these same compassionate doctors and nurses who treated Ms. Strickland when she was brought to the hospital in 2017 with a rare, life-threatening condition.

An injection of amoxicillin for a sore throat by a local health care facility plunged Dominique Strickland into a life-threatening nightmare. Within hours, the young mom had a rash over most of her body and was spiking a high fever.  Her reaction would land her in the intensive care unit of LIJFH and then the burn unit of Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH).

WATCH: The team that helped save, care for Dominique Strickland speaks about the ordeal.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome causes skin rashes, blisters and sores

Ms. Strickland was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and sometimes fatal condition that can be triggered by an infection or a reaction to medication.  It causes serious and painful skin rashes, blisters and sores on mucous membranes.

In Ms. Strickland’s case, rashes covered 80 percent of her body causing her genitals, mouth and eyes to repeatedly glue shut. Blisters caused the top layer of her skin to die and shed, falling off in sheets.

Ms. Strickland spent an agonizing week in the intensive care unit at LIJ Forest Hills, where one of the few bright spots was the nurturing care – and musical renditions – she received from ICU nurse Starr Lentz.

“When I couldn’t see, I didn’t know who was touching and caring for me,” said Ms. Strickland. “But every night when I would hear the ICU door open and her signing ‘Twinkle twinkle little star,’ I knew exactly who was in the room with me and how well I was going to be taken care of.”

Northwell employee Dominique Strickland and her 4-year-old daughter.
Northwell employee Dominique Strickland and her 4-year-old daughter.

SIUH Burn Center delivers wound care, hope

With her face and body a mangle of blisters and bandages, Ms. Strickland worried that her four-year-old daughter wouldn’t recognize her. But her loving nurse quelled those fears.

“Starr kept telling me a child sees nothing but love,” recalled Ms. Strickland. “She has no idea the impact she’s had on me.”

When she felt like giving up because the pain was unbearable, Ms. Lentz prayed and talked with Ms. Strickland and encouraged her to eat so that she could keep fighting her condition.

“She needed somebody to hug her and tell her everything was going to be OK,” said Ms. Lentz. “I treated Dominique like I treat all my patients, like I’d like to be treated if I was the patient in the hospital bed.”

Also on hand to join in the celebration was Narissa Joyner, MD, an emergency medicine physician in the LIJFH emergency department who was the first doctor to treat Ms. Strickland.

"Allergic reactions don’t always get to that point, but this was an example of a severe and life-threatening reaction. I’m so glad to be here today to see how well Dominique has healed and to know that the quality of care she received with us played a role in her decision to join Northwell.

After a week at LIJFH, Ms. Strickland was transferred to the Regional Burn Center of Staten Island University Hospital. The center is one of only three such burn units in New York City.

“About 20,000 cases of Stevens-Johnson syndrome are seen each year in this country,” said Michael Cooper, MD, director of the SIUH burn center. “We see anywhere from 10 to 15 Stevens-Johnson patients a year,” said Michael Cooper, MD, director of the SIUH burn center. “Most physicians probably won’t see a case within their career.”

During her week-long stay, Ms. Strickland received local wound care, antibiotics and pain management. She also had hydrotherapy treatment, which involves using a pressurized water system to wash away dead skin and bacteria to minimize her risk of infection.

Ms. Strickland’s ordeal has left her with lingering negative effects. Her bottom eyelashes now grow upward instead of downward requiring her to have them removed by laser every six months to prevent scratches to her eyes. Ms. Strickland no longer has tear ducts; she has developed astigmatism in both eyes and must wear sunglasses whenever she’s outdoors because her eyes can’t be exposed to sunlight.

Likewise, her skin can’t handle sun exposure so she must wear an SPF sunscreen of 80 or higher during the day. Internally, Ms. Strickland has extensive tissue scarring. She lost her fingernails and toenails…only her fingernails have grown back.

Ms. Strickland was so impressed was the care that she received at both Northwell hospitals that she decided to apply to work within the health system. Today, Ms. Strickland is an administrative supervisor with Medicine Specialties at Glen Oaks, a Northwell internal medicine practice.

“At first, I was turned away from another facility because they didn’t know what to do with me. But, when I came here they took me under their wing and they actually took care of me,” said Ms. Strickland.

“Because everyone did such an amazing job taking care of me so well, I knew I wanted to be part of such an amazing team. And that’s exactly why I’m here today.”