Obsessed with watching medical shows, I was fascinated by the man on screen who had contracted
a flesh-eating bug called necrotising fasciitis after cutting his leg on a rose bush.
The disease had caused his leg to go black and doctors had cut out a section of flesh to save his life.
What a miracle he was saved, I thought.
The following month, in September 2017, I noticed I had little red bumps on the inside of my lower right leg.
I hadn’t used any new skincare products or had any underlying skin conditions, but whatever had caused the bumps was making them itch like crazy.
I’m sure it will go away on its own, I thought.
Being the school holidays, I was focused on spending time with my three youngest kids, Edward, then 17, Victoria, 15, and Henry, 13.
My eldest son, Charles, 19, had recently moved away.
A few days later, I realised I’d mindlessly scratched the red bumps on my leg so much I’d broken the skin.
I cleaned it with Dettol and covered it with a bandaid to stop germs from spreading.
When I woke the following day, though, my calf was swollen
Having suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for the last 14 years, I assumed it was just another flare up.
But by 5.30pm I couldn’t bear to put any weight on my leg as I cooked dinner.
With Andrew at a meeting, and Edward and Victoria planning to stay at friends’ houses that night, it was just going to be me and Henry.
After whipping up a batch of spaghetti bolognaise, I waved the kids off and collapsed on the lounge.
By now, the redness had spread from my ankle to my knee and the area felt like it had been badly sunburned.
Suddenly, I felt a shiver wash over me, so I wrapped myself in a fleece blanket
and went to bed with a hot water bottle.
But the pain in my leg was so excruciating, I couldn’t even handle the pressure of the bedsheet on top of it.
I’ll feel better once I sleep, I convinced myself.
By the time Andrew got home at around 10pm, I was completely delirious.
That’s when he noticed a tiny black spot on my ankle.
Over the next few hours, black dots had spread up to my knee so he called an ambulance.
He took a photo on his phone to show me, and I was horrified. It looked just like the man from the show who had necrotising fasciitis!
‘My flesh is dying,’ I cried to Andrew.
At Canberra Hospital, my worst fears were confirmed – I was diagnosed with the flesh-eating bug. Doctors said it was from a break in the skin, caused by the scratch. I was immediately prepped for surgery, where doctors would try to remove the infection.
‘What’s happening?’ I asked a doctor.
‘You will either lose your leg or die,’ he replied bluntly.
Terrified, I thought of the kids.
‘Tell them I love them,’ I begged Andrew.
Then, after a quick kiss goodbye, I was whisked into theatre.
When I woke in ICU the next day, a nurse told me the surgical team had managed to save my leg.
They’d been forced to cut out a large section of skin and muscle – measuring 20cm long, 10cm wide and 6cm deep – going from my knee right down to my ankle, to remove the infected area.
As a size 28, I’d struggled with my weight all my life.
Incredibly, doctors revealed that because I was a bigger person, the extra flesh on my calf meant the bug didn’t have a chance to get all the way down to my bone.
‘You’re very fortunate,’ they said.
I couldn’t believe my extra weight had helped save my life.
When a doctor lifted the covers to show me my leg, I was horrified. Sealed with a vacuum dressing to help remove the gunk inside, it still looked angry and red.
Despite that, I was just so grateful to be alive.
But doctors weren’t satisfied that the disease was completely gone.
Over the next five weeks,
I underwent four more surgeries to scrape away the infection and had a skin graft on my calf with skin taken from my upper thigh.
Once my doctor was satisfied the graft had taken, I was allowed home.
But my recovery was far from over as I needed my dressings changed daily and a wheelchair to get around.
Thankfully, Andrew had taken nine months off work to be with me every step of the way.
With a second chance at life, I knew I needed to embrace it to the fullest and prioritise my health.
So I changed my diet, cutting out all junk food and soft drink, instead opting for smaller meal portions of lean protein and vegies.
Now, more than two years on from developing the infection, I’ve lost a whopping 80 kilos and am wearing a size 18.
‘We’re so proud of you,’ the kids often say.
I’m sharing my story in the hope that others will understand the importance of seeking medical help right away when something doesn’t feel right.
Your health isn’t worth the risk.
I didn’t let you beat me, I now think whenever I look at my wound.
What is necrotising fasciitis (NF)?
Commonly known as flesh-eating disease, NF is a rare bacterial infection that results in the death of parts of the body’s soft tissue. It spreads quickly and can cause death. Accurate diagnosis, rapid treatment and prompt surgery are important to stop this infection.