Rare infection kills Pearl City High teacher


POSTED: Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The state Health Department launched an investigation yesterday into the death of an Oahu high school teacher from so-called “;flesh-eating”; bacteria.

Spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the department learned only yesterday of the death Friday of Kurt Sonoda, a popular special-education teacher at Pearl City High School, who fell ill a day earlier.

Students and teachers crowded into the emergency room at Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi the night Sonoda died, said his mother, Beatrice.

;[Preview]    Flesh Disease Claims Life of Pearl City Teacher

Kurt Sonoda, 45, was an avid golfer and Pearl City teacher who died mysteriously died of a flesh-eating bacteria.

Watch ]


“;There were so many people there for him,”; she said. They told her that he took care of the students and was known for having snacks in his classroom.

“;He really encouraged students,”; said Sonoda, 72.

“;I feel like a big hole in my heart,”; she said. “;Something is missing. He shouldn't have died.”;

Sonoda, 45, died of necrotizing fasciitis at about 8:45 p.m. The condition is a rare but severe type of bacterial infection that can destroy muscle, skin and tissue, according to the federal Medline Plus Web site. It is caused by “;flesh-eating”; bacteria that often enter the body through a minor cut or scrape. Without treatment, the bacteria can kill.

The third of four children, Sonoda graduated from Pearl City High School and the University of Hawaii at West Oahu. He coached girls golf at Pearl City and Waianae high schools. He also helped coach softball in Waianae.

He represented Hawaii in long-drive golf contests in California and Nevada.

While teaching in Waianae, he brought bags of his own clothes to some of his homeless students, his mother said.

Sonoda had been fighting a cold for about two weeks before the sudden attack, his mother said. A week before he died, he told a friend that he heard something pop while he was picking up items at work. It is unknown whether he also had a cut or scrape on his lower abdomen, where the infection apparently started.

On Thursday his mother noticed him limping. He told her he had a hernia and was sick. He went to work that day and returned home early because he was ill.

The next morning his wife, Madoka, called his mother into his room.

“;His abdomen area was all discolored. It was grayish, black and bluish,”; his mother said. The discoloration ran down Sonoda's thighs.

Sonoda's mother took him to the emergency room, but he became so weak he couldn't get out of the car and was slurring his speech.

In the emergency room, Sonoda had shockingly low blood pressure, and his temperature had already dropped about 2 degrees, his mother said.

An hour later the doctor told the family he had kidney failure and septic shock, a serious condition that can cause organ failure.

The surgeon, confirming it was necrotizing fasciitis, said if he was not treated that day, he could die. At 11 a.m., surgery was performed, which appeared to help.

About five hours later, Sonoda's mother was called back to the room, and doctors said his condition was so bad they wanted to know whether the family wanted to continue trying to save Sonoda. They could not decide.

Eventually, Sonoda's heart stopped beating and doctors could not revive him. “;So he left us,”; she said. “;He died at that moment.”;

The family and doctors do not know where Sonoda caught the disease.

The family is preparing services.

While rare, necrotizing fasciitis has led to recent deaths in Hawaii. Oliver Johnson, 34, died in April 2006 after falling into the Ala Wai Harbor, contaminated from a major sewage spill. In 2002 a Maui man died three weeks after injuring his leg on a wooden stairway.

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski contributed to this report.