‘My face was eaten alive’

She was just trying to make a cup of tea.
PA Real Life

When Donna Corden went to make a drink, it was the start of a nightmare.

Here, Donna, 46, tells the story in her own words.

Dying for a cuppa, I headed into the kitchen. Wincing as I walked, I could feel pain in my arthritic legs. I’d had a busy morning – taking my daughter, Summer, 11, to school and doing endless rounds of washing.

In slow-motion, I felt my legs give way. Falling sideways, I could see my head moving towards the oven but, helpless, I couldn’t steady myself. Bang!

Colliding with the metal, I was knocked out cold. Coming to, I was a tangle of arms and legs. Thump, thump, thump, pounded my head.Meanwhile, my son David, 24, was calling my name. ‘Mum! Wake up!’ he shouted.Propping up my head on the pillow he’d given me, I looked around. Still woozy, blood dripped down my face. ‘What happened, love?’ I asked. ‘Your knees gave way, Mum,’ he explained. ‘You bumped your head on the oven and knocked yourself out!’

David insisted on calling out the doctor. ‘[You have] a nasty cut above your left eyebrow,’ he pronounced, carefully applying two small sterile strips to it. ‘You’ll have a shiner and feel sore for a few days, but it’s nothing to worry about,’ he explained. I was sure he was right.

The next morning, though, I felt awful and the skin around my eye had turned a puce colour. ‘I’ll sit with you,’ said my mate, also called Donna, holding a cold towel gently against my clammy head. But as the hours passed, I became more befuddled.

Increasingly concerned, Donna rang my daughter, Jayde, 26, and asked her to come and see me. Finding me slumped in
a heap, barely conscious, Jayde was horrified and called an ambulance.

before the accident
Jayde and Donna before the infection. (Credit: PA Real Life)

When we reached the hospital, everything felt surreal as doctors and nurses gathered around me. ‘It’s necrotising fasciitis, caused by a flesh-eating bug,’ said a doctor. It turned out that the deadly bacteria was eating away at the soft tissue in my face.

Although alarmed at what she was saying, I could feel myself losing grip on reality. ‘Look after her eyes,’ Jayde told doctors, concerned for my sight.Their response was grave…‘We’re trying to save her life,’ one replied. My poor girl must have been terrified.

Semi-conscious, I was raced to surgery.For the next four-and-a-half hours, under general anaesthetic, surgeons had to slice away at my face, fighting to save my life. Coming around, I still felt too woozy to comprehend what was happening.

infected face
Donna’s infected face. (Credit: PA Real Life)

Then, as if I hadn’t been through enough, a few hours later, I developed potentially deadly sepsis, caused when the body’s immune system attacks itself, while fighting an infection.My family was gathered together as I was pumped full of antibiotics.

‘She’s very, very ill,’ they were told. ‘You might want to say your goodbyes.’ But somehow I fought through. Two weeks later, I finally felt lucid enough to speak.‘What on earth has happened?’ I asked, looking up at a crowd of weeping faces in front of me.

The last clear memory I had was of walking into my kitchen, to make a cup of tea. Slowly, Jayde started to tell me. ‘All this from a cut on my eyebrow?’ I gasped.

Doctors didn’t know why I’d developed such a deadly infection from such a small cut, I’d just been unlucky.Looking in the mirror for the first time, my heart sank. My skin had been eaten away and my smile was all lopsided. But I was alive. ‘I’m going to live life to the full!’ I announced.

A month after the fall, I went under the knife for 11 hours, as surgeons grafted skin from both my legs and thighs onto my face.
When I came to again, I was in for one hell of a shock. My face bulged where the skin had taken and the stitches were a totally different colour.It looked a bit like a rugby ball had been sewn onto my face.

after surgery
Donna after the skin graft. (Credit: PA Real Life)

‘I look…’ I started to say, before bursting into tears. Slowly but surely, I got used to my appearance.

Two months after the accident I picked up the kids from school for the first time. At the school gates, I braced myself for the smirks and cruel comments.I needn’t have worried, everyone was fantastic.

Now I’ve just had another operation to reconstruct my face. It’s the first of many. I know I’ll never look the same again. That Donna died the day she slipped in her kitchen 10 months ago. But in her place is a bold, brave, strong women – who is just as beautiful as she’s ever been. And my scars? Well, they just mean I am stronger than the evil bug that tried to kill me.

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