How a woman’s slight neck strain turned out to be a flesh-eating bacterial infection that spread to her spine and left her paralysed
- Cleaner felt a suspected neck strain
- She rested but lost limb movement
- Left paralysed after emergency surgeries
A woman has been left paralysed after what she thought was a simple neck strain turned out to be flesh-eating bacteria that almost claimed her life.
Western Australian resident Karen Stevens, 54, began experiencing neck pain four weeks ago and put it down to straining a muscle from her cleaning job.
The New Zealander, who has lived in Australia for eight years, was told to rest by doctors but on July 28 she was rushed to hospital after losing all feeling and movement in her arms and legs.
Rushed tests and MRI scans showed that Ms Stevens was suffering from a staph infection that had damaged nerves, tissue and bone surrounding her spine.
After emergency double laminectomy surgery to remove bone and drain abscesses that were compressing her spinal cord, Ms Stevens appeared to be stable.
WA resident Karen Stevens, 54, began experiencing neck pain four weeks ago and put it down to straining a muscle from her cleaning job.
However, three days later Ms Stevens was struggling to breathe.
Another MRI showed the infection had entered her spinal canal and travelled further up the spine damaging the crucial C2-C7 vertebrae.
Doctors told Ms Stevens and her family another surgery was needed to ‘flush out’ the spine and drain abscesses but she had only a 10 per cent of surviving it.
Daughter-in-law Miro said the family were given a ‘bleak prognosis’ for the surgery’s chances of success.
‘But, the strong, determined lady we know did make it out of surgery and, after four days on the ventilator, progressed to a tracheotomy for a week and then to no assistance required for breathing.’ Miro wrote on a GoFundMe page.
‘A massive feat after the doctors advising they were unsure if she would ever breathe again unassisted.’
Miro said her mother-in-law ‘has the biggest heart and would do anything for anyone’.
Ms Stevens has been left paralysed by a staph infection around her spine that threatened to end her life
With Ms Stevens not covered by Medicare the fund-raising page is to meet some of her expense and on Sunday nigh had already surpassed its goal of raising $10,000 with $13,000 pledged.
‘All monies will go to her recovery whilst in Australia and the costs to get her back to NZ when she is medically stable to travel, she will then continue her rehab at the Burwood spinal unit in Christchurch, NZ,’ the fundraiser states.
In an update posted on Wednesday. Miro writes that Ms Stevens was set to be moved to the spinal rehab unit after 12 days in the neuro ward.
‘It has been tough on Mema’s mental state; although she has remained mostly positive, there have been some incredibly low days with the realisation of her situation,’ Miro said.
‘She has received small stints of physio while on the ward; she finds this very tiring but also feels invigorated afterwards.’
In one small sign of progress Ms Stevens has been able to sit in a chair with her back and neck supported for one-hour periods.
‘We know the big steps and progress with commence when she is in the spinal unit; she knows it’s going to be a tough road but is ready and willing to put in the work,’ Miro said.
Staphylococcus, or staph for short, bacteria are normally found on the skin and or in nasal cavities but find their way into the body through wounds or injuries, leading to infection.
In the most serious cases staph infections can cause sepsis or death.
WHAT ARE STAPHYLOCOCCAL INFECTIONS?
Staphylococcal, or ‘staph’, infections are caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus.
Around one-in-three people carry Staph bacteria harmlessly on their skin and it only causes problems when it enters the body via cuts, grazes or medical equipment.
This can cause relatively minor skin infections, such as boils but also serious ones affecting the blood, lungs, heart and spine.
Infection symptoms for the skin and soft tissue:
Boils – red, painful lumps that usually develop on the neck, face, armpits or buttocks
Impetigo – causes sores, blisters and crusts; usually in children
Skin abscesses – a collection of pus that appears as a painful lump under the skin’s surface
More serious conditions include:
Endocarditis – infection of the inner heart lining, leading to fever, chest pain and coughing
Pneumonia – lung infection that causes coughing, breathing difficulties and chest pain
Sepsis – a violent immune response leads to fever, and a rapid breathing and heart rate
Boils and other more minor forms of infection do not typically require treatment. However, antibiotics may be given or a minor procedure to drain pus from the skin.
For invasive infections, hospital treatment is required, which usually involves antibiotic injections over several days.
How to avoid infection:
- Wash hands with soap and warm water frequently
- Do not share towels, razors, bed linen or toothbrushes
- Keep cuts clean and covered
Source: UK National Health Service