An Army veteran lost her leg after contracting a flesh-eating bacterium after doctors mistook the condition for a sprained knee.
Jennifer Barlow, 33, of Atlanta, Georgia, had just returned from a vacation in the Bahamas last January when she felt something was off.
Mrs Barlow regularly went to the gym and was “healthy as a steer”, but suddenly felt weak and lay in bed for four days.
His right knee had swollen to “at least three times the size” of his left knee, and was red and hot to the touch.
Jennifer Barlow, 33, of Atlanta, Georgia, had just returned from a vacation in the Bahamas last January when she felt something was off. Her right knee had swollen to “at least three times the size” of her left knee, and she was red and hot to the touch. She was in “unbearable” pain.
Mrs Barlow was placed in a medically induced coma for 10 days. When she finally woke up, she had already undergone 12 surgeries. Later they had to remove his leg.
“I was in excruciating pain,” he told TODAY.com.
Doctors at Ms Barlow’s local emergency room thought her knee had sprained and sent her home on crutches and pain relievers. However, her knee continued to grow until it looked like “the leg of a giant”.
Mrs. Barlow was diagnosed with a rare bacterial infection called necrotizing fasciitis.
Dr. Jonathan Pollock, Ms. Barlow’s physician at the Joseph Cleland Atlanta VA Medical Center, told TODAY.com: “I was very concerned that she wouldn’t survive this.”
“It is fair to say that his life was in grave danger.”
Also known as flesh-eating disease, necrotizing fasciitis is a serious, rapidly spreading infection that kills one in five patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most commonly, it enters the body through a cut or other break in the skin, including burns, insect bites, and surgical wounds.
The condition can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can resemble those of other diseases. Symptoms include a rapidly spreading red or warm area of skin, severe pain, and fever. As necrotizing fasciitis spreads, it can cause skin ulcers or blistering, changes in skin color, pus or oozing, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea, and nausea.
The CDC estimates that between 700 and 1,150 cases occur in the United States each year. According to the NHS, there are about 500 cases a year in the UK.
Getting treatment right away is key to preventing the infection from spreading. Antibiotics can be effective, although they do not always reach all infected areas.
Patients often need multiple surgeries to remove as much dead flesh as possible.
Mrs Barlow was placed in a medically induced coma for 10 days. When she finally woke up, she had already undergone 12 surgeries.
“I was confused and scared,” she said.
Barlow underwent more than 30 surgeries in all, including one to amputate his leg.
He also suffered from sepsis, the body’s extreme reaction to infection.
Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight an infection cause inflammation throughout the body. This sets off a chain reaction that causes the organs to fail.
Infections that cause sepsis usually start in the lungs, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract, but almost any infection can cause sepsis.
The complication has been linked to one in three hospital deaths, according to the CDC.
Barlow has undergone more than 30 surgeries and is now raising money for a prosthetic leg.
Symptoms can be a lot like the flu and include very high or low body temperature, sweating, extreme pain, clammy skin, dizziness, nausea, elevated heart rate, slurred speech, and confusion.
Mrs. Barlow’s case progressed to septic shock, which is characterized by a severe drop in blood pressure. Signs of septic shock, according to the Mayo Clinic, include not being able to stand up, extreme fatigue or not being able to stay awake, and a major change in mental status.
If left untreated, sepsis and septic shock are fatal.
It affects 1.7 million Americans each year and kills 350,000, the CDC estimates.
In the UK, it affects 245,000 people a year and causes 48,000 deaths, according to The UK Sepsis Trust.
The most common cause of necrotizing fasciitis is group A strep, a form of bacteria that can cause strep throat.
Barlow believes that she may have been exposed to the bacteria while on vacation in the Bahamas. Doctors still aren’t sure what caused it.
He returned home after four months in the hospital and is now raising money for a prosthetic leg.