Boy recovering in Dallas after a mouthful of dirt led to a life-threatening illness

It took just seconds for 3-year-old DerekScott "Bubba" Kirby to get thrown off the sheep he was riding during a mutton-busting event at a Central Texas rodeo.

And even less time for the preschooler, who was no newcomer to the rodeo tradition that introduces kids to rough riding, to dust himself off and strut out of the ring like a tough bronc rider.

"There was no injury, just a mouthful of dirt," said his mother, Deven Denman. "He was laughing."

But a week later, on June 26, Bubba woke up crying at 5 a.m. at his home in Goldthwaite, about 135 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

"His diaper was filled with nothing but blood," said Denman, who grew up in Bedford and moved away several months ago.

Since then it's been a rough ride for Bubba and his family as he battled a life-threatening condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which left him unable to eat, speak or walk.

All the while, an army of friends has held everything from prayer vigils to carwashes in a show of support for the family. Calling themselves Bubba's Angels, they set up a Facebook page that has drawn more than 7,400 followers, said Kendra Goode, a friend. Two events are planned for this weekend.

"People are buying T-shirts, donating money and sending tons of gifts," she said. "I think Bubba's story has hit people in their hearts and they just want to do whatever they can to help."

Denman, a divorced mother of two and self-employed hairdresser, has rarely left her son's side throughout the medical ordeal. But last week, Bubba's health improved enough that he was transferred from Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin to Our Children's House at Baylor in Dallas, where he will undergo rehabilitation.

He has been weaned off his pain medication, is more alert and is straightening his arm, which had curled up after he suffered a stroke, Denman said.

This week, he said his first word since he became ill.

"He finally said no, clear as day," Denman said. "It's his favorite word."

Bubba contracted an E. coli infection when he swallowed dirt at the rodeo. Around the country other children have fallen ill after contact with animals at fairs, rodeos and petting zoos. He then developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. The condition usually affects children under age 5 and occurs when an infection in the digestive system produces toxic substances that destroy red blood cells.

It most often causes kidney failure but can also lead to stroke, seizures and a perforated intestine, said Dr. Robert Gillespie, a nephrologist with Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth. The condition is rare, with three to four cases treated at Cook Children's a year.

"Children get very sick, but most recover," he said.

It is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children.

In Bubba's case, it attacked his kidneys and didn't stop there.

"He was bloated and so big he was unrecognizable," Denman said. "His eyes were swollen shut and he had this huge body with little arms and legs," she said.

While he was on kidney dialysis, Denman noticed that something didn't seem quite right.

"He was sleeping with his eyes open," she said.

Tests revealed that he'd had a stroke. Then, while he was about to undergo an MRI, Bubba's heart stopped.

It was 3 a.m. when Bubba's physician told the family that he wanted to put him on a treatment for children with cardiorespiratory failure. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation allows the heart and lungs to rest while the machine does all the work. But it would be three hours before the treatment could begin on the equipment.

Getting Bubba to 6 a.m. was the longest three hours of Denman's life.

"It was a minute-by-minute thing," she said. "His blood pressure kept going down and alarms were going off every five minutes."

In the end, Bubba was placed on the ECMO and it did exactly what it was intended to do. It gave Bubba's heart the rest it needed, and after three days he was taken off the machine.

His condition has gradually improved, and Denman is optimistic that he'll be back in his beloved cowboy boots in no time.

"Until now nothing hurt him," Denman said. "He's definitely a scrapper."

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664