A Florida woman who tripped over her dog and landed on her nose was unable to leave the house for two years — after the cut became infected and half her face “fell off.”
Shelley Puchalsky, 39, said she was out running with her shih tzu Chloe in September 2019 when she fell face-first onto the trail and suffered cuts to her nose and forehead.
Although the wounds were sutured, they had difficulty healing. Six weeks later, she visited a plastic surgeon for a skin graft on her nose and forehead.
The mother-of-two claims that’s when things took a turn for the worse, when an infection ‘eaten away’ her skin so much that she had a mango-sized gaping hole in her forehead, which grew until her bone was exposed.
Shelley Puchalsky, 39, of Florida was walking her dog when she tripped and fell nose down, lacerating her nose and forehead. Eventually, there was a mango-sized hole in her nose, exposing the bone
Ms Puchalsky had a botched skin graft, which left her with a serious infection and sepsis. The former real estate agent said the infection became so severe that it began to “travel” through her scalp, devouring chunks of skin and hair in its path
“I went to a doctor who said he could help me, so he did a skin graft on my nose and re-stitched my forehead,” Ms Puchalsky said.
During the procedure, she received a skin graft from behind the ear, followed by about 20 stitches on her nose and another 20 on her forehead.
She said her wounds then started draining pus and never closed again, and the infection also ate through her eyebrow.
“It was a botched operation. In hindsight I don’t think they realized it was infected when they put the skin graft on it and by the time I went back and let them know I wasn’t taken seriously,” she said.
“Everything kept getting torn apart. My skin just fell off the bone because it was so infected. It was horrible.’
Mrs. Puchalsky had a spot on her nose that had no skin on it, and the skin on her forehead was almost completely gone.
The former real estate agent said the infection became so severe that it began to “travel” her scalp, devouring bits of skin and hair in its path.
“I looked like a burn victim. The whole half of my face looked like it had been burned off and then the top part of my scalp looked like a rash because there was no skin or hair,” she said.
“I still have a few days where I feel bad about myself, but it’s a process. I feel better today than I did a year ago,” Ms. Puchalsky said. “I know my face and the scars will heal over time and look better than they did a year ago, I just have to keep telling myself that”
Ms Puchalsky claimed that when she visited the plastic surgeon, her wounds appeared visibly infected and they had not run any tests to determine if she had an infection.
She was eventually diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a bone infection in her skull that can spread from the bloodstream or nearby tissue.
Then she developed sepsis, an extreme reaction to an infection that affects 1.7 million Americans each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It also kills 350,000 adults each year.
Ms Puchalsky then underwent major surgery in February 2021, in which she was cut from ‘ear to ear’ to remove any infected areas. However, it then became infected again.
“I just knew my face, myself, and things would never be the same again,” she said.
“I don’t recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I don’t often look in the mirror, I feel like I’m not the person looking back.’
Ms. Puchalsky’s incident is a degloving injury, a type of trauma in which the top layers of skin are ripped away from the muscle, connective tissue or bone below.
The most common causes are usually related to industrial equipment, such as in construction and agriculture, as well as car and motorcycle accidents. a 2020 studyfor example, evaluated 188 patients with degloving injuries and found that 96 percent were related to motor vehicles or machinery.
She also has anemia and autoimmune problems as a result of the infection. Originally from Delaware, she has been alone in Florida since last November, receiving specialist medical care and struggling with isolation.
The mother-of-two hopes to undergo reconstructive surgery before her wedding to 59-year-old David Miller in December. “It would be a dream come true to have this surgery before my big day,” she said
“I probably haven’t been out in public for two years,” Ms. Puchalsky said. “I still don’t go out much, every now and then. I try to time it really early in the morning or late at night.”
She has also avoided seeing anything but her best friends in person for fear of what they might think of her face.
“Only very close friends of mine have seen me in person. I don’t go out in public very often because I’m ashamed of my face, which is strange because I’m showing complete strangers on the internet,” she said.
“I’m very introverted about it because I still feel very hurt and protective because I’m still dealing with a lot of pain because I feel like what happened shouldn’t have happened.”
Ms. Puchalsky is now raising $30,000 for reconstructive surgery, lowering her forehead back to its original position, restoring volume to her cheeks, and restoring skin texture from scars.
She hopes to have it ready before she and her fiancé of eight years, David Miller, 59, get married in December.
“It would be a dream come true to have this surgery before my big day,” she said.
For now, Ms. Puchalsky is focused on dealing with the healing process.
“I still have a few days where I feel bad about myself, but it’s a process. I feel better today than I did a year ago,” she said.
“I know my face and the scars will heal over time and look better than they did a year ago, I just have to keep telling myself that.”