Theresa Ferris White, 48, developed pyoderma gangrenosum from a cat scratch
A mother-of-two was left fighting for her life after developing a deadly fleshing-eating disease from a cat scratch on her breast.
Theresa Ferris White, 48, developed pyoderma gangrenosum (PG) from the scratch, which happened while she was working in an animal shelter.
The condition, which can be triggered by insect bites and any skin damage, struck her right breast, where she was clawed.
Ms White, from Nova Scotia, Canada, who said PG caused her skin to ‘slide off’, had to have her rotting flesh replaced with that from a dead body. Doctors even warned her family she may not pull through.
She took months off work because of her condition and has been left self-conscious as the condition still causes flare-ups of painful ulcers.
Speaking about her 10-year battle with PG for the first time, she said: ‘This is a very painful disease. It’s a rare condition and it’s hard to go through it by yourself.’
Ms White was working in an animal shelter 11 years ago when she and a colleague were trying to dry one of the cats with a towel.
Recalling the moment she was scratched, Ms White said: ‘He started going crazy, clawing my arms and chest, when he caught right breast.
‘The next day I noticed a lump on my right breast where the cat had clawed me, I kept an eye on it, as it was starting to get very painful.’
Five days later, Ms White was admitted to Dartmouth General Hospital and given antibiotics through an IV drip amid fears she had an infection.
Her skin had began to blister and fall away from her right breast. Doctors sent her home after she was given the antibiotics.
However, Ms White had to return to the same hospital when she began vomiting and had signs of a fever.
The condition, which the NHS states can be triggered by insect bites and any skin damage, struck her right breast, where she was clawed
Recalling the moment she was scratched, Ms White said: ‘He started going crazy, clawing my arms and chest, when he caught right breast’ (stock)
There she was diagnosed with PG, which is thought to be caused by an overactive immune system, according to the NHS.
Fighting for her life
She said: ‘They decided to operate, which made the wound worse, and my skin and breast tissue began to slide off.
‘I spent a month in the hospital, having my daily dressing changes as I was loosing skin and doctors thought I might not pull through.
“It wasn’t until I was seen by more doctors and dermatologists that I was eventually told I had pyoderma gangrenosum.
‘My right breast was unrecognizable. I had lost all the skin and the top part of the tissue from my breast and it was extremely painful.’
Skin from a deceased body
Ms White underwent a procedure to replace her lost skin with that from a deceased human body, meaning the body is less likely to reject it.
Speaking about the operation, she said: ‘In April of 2007 I needed to have an operation in order for my skin to grow back again.
‘The donated skin from a deceased person was traumatic to have to deal with and the surgery was very painful.
Ms White who said PG caused her skin to ‘slide off’, had to have her rotting flesh replaced with that from a dead body. Doctors even warned her family she may not pull through
WHAT IS PYODERMA GANGRENOSUM?
Pyoderma gangrenosum is a rare skin condition that causes painful ulcers. Estimates suggest it strikes around one in 100,000 people.
It is usually treatable but may take some time to heal and may leave some scarring. It often starts as a small pimple, red bump or blood blister.
The skin then breaks down into a painful ulcer with a purple or blue edge, which may ooze fluid.
The ulcer can rapidly get bigger and deeper, and several may develop in the area. If the ulcer gets infected, it can cause fever.
It usually affects the legs, although it can affect any area of skin, including around the head and neck, arms and genitals. It can be fatal, if untreated.
Pyoderma gangrenosum is seen in men and women of any age, but usually affects young and middle-aged adults.
People with conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, blood dyscrasia, hepatitis and cancer affecting the blood cells, are at increased risk of developing it.
The exact cause of pyoderma gangrenosum is not understood, but it’s thought to be a reaction to a disease or illness.
Source: NHS Choices
‘I have managed to keep the condition under control, treating small flare-ups quickly, but have been left with scarring on my breast.
‘I have a hard time with relationships as I am very self-conscious about my appearance now.’
Ms White was also diagnosed with PTSD and depression as a result of her battle with PG, which strikes one in 100,000 people, according to estimates.
A supportive family
Praising her partner Blaine Cruickshank, 47, Ms White added: ‘He is very supportive of my PG symptoms, depression and PTSD.
‘With my second flare up on the right side of my stomach, he actually did all the dressing changes every day.
‘He is always telling me I’m beautiful just the way I am and he loves me for me. Always trying to build up my self-esteem.
Ms White also credited her daughter, Genieve, 31, who ‘has been there through it all, right from the start of this battle’.
And she explained her son, Thomas, 30, ‘has had a very hard time dealing with my diagnosis’ because he didn’t like to see her suffering.
Ms White, who claims she was lucky to find a dermatologist who specialises in the condition, is now desperately trying to raise awareness of PG.
She said: ‘I wish more doctors knew about this disease so people don’t have to suffer as much as I did.’