‘I’m being strangled alive’ Aussie woman’s TOOTH put her in a coma

A terrifying experience

As told to Keeley Henderson

Gold Coast woman Caitlin Alsop, 24, incredibly fought back from the brink of death.

Here she tells her story.

Struggling to breathe, and with the last of my energy waning, I tried to focus.

I was lying in bed one night in August 2018 when my tongue – which had been sore earlier in the evening – suddenly swelled up on one side.

I’m having a stroke, I panicked.

I should have gone straight to the emergency room. But I’d had a paralysing fear of hospitals since my grandma passed away and this held me back. 

Maybe it’s just an allergic reaction, I thought, trying to remain calm.

My mum, Sharon, was at work, but I knew my Aunt Lisa, who lived just around the corner, would have antihistamines.

Summoning all my strength, I grabbed my Medicare card and drove to her house.

When my 14-year-old cousin opened the door, he gasped.

‘You look like you’ve been punched in the face,’ he said.

Lisa wanted to call for an ambulance, but I shook my head.

By now, I couldn’t talk and had begun to dribble, but I didn’t want to make a fuss.

Caitlin became worried when her tongue started to swell. Credit: Supplied
(Caitlin became worried when her tongue started to swell. Credit: Supplied)

Worried I was gravely ill, Lisa bundled me in the car and raced me to hospital.

By the time we arrived, I couldn’t even swallow and the doctors thought I was suffering anaphylactic shock.

‘Forty five minutes and you’ll be out of here,’ one kind doctor reassured me.

However, the two adrenaline shots and a steroid I was given to alleviate the symptoms only exacerbated them.

My heart rate dropped, I was drifting in and out of consciousness and an angry rash spread across my body.

I felt like I was suffocating.

It’s like I’m being strangled alive, I panicked.

Everything was closing in. I was terrified.

An ambulance raced me to the intensive care unit of a bigger hospital where medics were waiting.

When I came around, my family were by my bed.

My mum was beside herself.

She told me I’d been placed on life support and had been in a coma for nine days, fighting for my life.

Caitlin was in a coma for nine days. Credit: Supplied
(Caitlin was in a coma for nine days. Credit: Supplied)

Around 100 specialists at Gold Coast University Hospital had run countless tests and scans, trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

My tongue had turned completely black and my airways were compromised because it was so swollen.

The rash was caused by sepsis – an infection in the blood.

‘They told us to prepare for the worst,’ Mum said. ‘They didn’t think you’d make it.’

Doctors were completely flummoxed – I was a medical mystery.

Finally, a CT scan revealed a seemingly innocuous impacted wisdom tooth.

That sparked a light-bulb moment for one specialist who suggested my symptoms could be due to Ludwig’s angina.

It is an extremely rare condition which can occur after a tooth abscess, and it causes the tongue to turn black.

Sufferers are essentially strangled from within as excessive swelling in the mouth and throat obstructs the airway.

Leaping into action, surgeons had removed my infected wisdom tooth.

Drains were placed in my neck to relieve the swelling and I was pumped with antibiotics through an IV.

‘That’s when you began to improve,’ Mum told me.

Taking it all in, I had never felt more grateful to be able to see, breathe and hear.

But I was very weak and even simple tasks such as sitting were incredibly hard.

It was hard coming to terms with what had happened too.

I had no idea that I’d had an infected tooth

Caitlin is proud of her scars and what she's overcome. Credit: Supplied
(Caitlin is proud of her scars and what she’s overcome. Credit: Supplied)

I hadn’t experienced any pain and I’d always maintained good oral hygiene.

The only symptoms I’d had previously were a red rash on my face which came and went, and a feeling of being run-down.

Prior to my hospital admission, I had seen various doctors, and had tests, but no-one had realised a deadly infection was silently ravaging me from the inside out.

After the surgery, I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror.

There were bandages on my neck and chest and scars from the drains.

But later that day, I had an epiphany. Something had tried to beat me, but I was stronger than it.

Why should I feel shame? I thought.

After two weeks, I was allowed home.

I realise how lucky I am to be here.

I’m just so grateful to the doctors and nurses who made the decision to keep testing me.

Determined to make the most of my second chance, I’m sharing my story to publicly thank them for saving my life, and also to raise awareness of sepsis.

Now, I really appreciate the simple things in life, especially the support of my mum, dad and family. I tell them I love them and always look for positives in any situation.

‘Life’s too short to get angry,’ I say.

It’s one of those experiences you never expect to happen, but you have the choice to let it ruin you, or let it build you.

And I’ve chosen to let it build me

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