Near to death

Cut al­most claimed woman’s life

The Cobram Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Patrick Tansey

Strath­mer­ton’s Char­lotte El­liott has en­dured 17 surg­eries and come close to death af­ter suf­fer­ing a sim­ple cut on her leg while on hol­i­day in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

She has been in Royal Dar­win Hospi­tal for the past 11 weeks as doc­tors first bat­tled to save her leg and then her life as the in­fec­tion raged through her body.

The 20-year-old was in the NT with her sis­ter Grace when she cut her left leg while climb­ing a fence in Alice Springs.

She was so ‘‘out of it’’ for the first three weeks in hospi­tal she did not even re­alise doc­tors feared for her life.

‘‘It took me a while to re­alise just how bad it was,’’ Char­lotte said.

‘‘Those first three weeks — I think that time was prob­a­bly harder on my fam­ily than it was on me be­cause they knew a lot of the in­for­ma­tion that I couldn’t com­pre­hend be­cause I was on so many painkillers.

‘‘There’s a lot of that pe­riod I just don’t re­mem­ber. I was in a lot of pain; it wasn’t easy at all but I sort of just made my­self sleep to get through the pain,’’ she said.

‘‘It wasn’t un­til one of the sur­geons who saw me on the first day I got flown in from Alice Springs came to see me and she said to me they were re­ally ner­vous that I wouldn’t make it and that I wouldn’t keep my leg.

‘‘I kind of said to Mum af­ter­wards, ‘did I al­most just die?’. I had no idea it was that bad.’’

The toll on Char­lotte’s body through­out the 11-week or­deal has been enor­mous.

Most of Char­lotte’s surg­eries in­volved cut­ting out the parts of her leg where the in­fec­tion was worst.

She has al­ready been through three skin grafts be­cause the first two did not fully take. The lat­est graft is pro­gress­ing well — but slowly.

Now, af­ter nearly four months of painstak­ing surg­eries and iso­la­tion from fam­ily, friends and nor­mal life, Char­lotte is only two to three weeks away from re­turn­ing home.

‘‘I’ve had some re­ally good news in the past week,’’ Char­lotte said.

‘‘The re­hab cen­tre up here has ac­tu­ally re­jected me; they’ve said I’m too ad­vanced to start with them be­cause of all the work I’ve al­ready done with my physio, so I won’t need to go into any re­hab ther­apy up here or back home.’’

De­spite the good news, the bat­tle is not com­pletely over be­fore Char­lotte can re­turn to full health.

‘‘Once I get home I’ll still have to do a fair bit of physio most days and will have to go to a fair few OT ap­point­ments as well just to do with scar man­age­ment and pro­tect­ing the wound, be­cause it’s fairly week, it’s only one layer of skin,’’ she said.

She will have a se­ries of check-ups at the Al­fred Hospi­tal in Mel­bourne and doc­tors there will re­fer her to a plas­tic sur­geon so in a few years’ time she can un­dergo plas­tic surgery on her leg to strengthen the frag­ile skin.

Af­ter be­ing bed-rid­den for weeks on end, the coura­geous young woman only started walk­ing again a few weeks ago.

She re­cently achieved the mile­stone of walk­ing up four fights of stairs and is work­ing on re­gain­ing her bal­ance and build­ing up the strength in her legs.

She said the po­si­tion of the wound had also brought phys­i­cal chal­lenges with her re­cov­ery ef­forts.

‘‘The wound comes up just above my left knee and it’s made my knee re­ally quite tight. I can’t re­ally put socks and shoes on yet, so I need to loosen it up.’’

Thank­fully for her emo­tional well­be­ing — and her bat­tered body — Char­lotte had her fi­nal op­er­a­tion three weeks ago.

‘‘It was such a re­lief to hear I wouldn’t need any more,’’ she said.

While the stress has been over­whelm­ing she said it al­most got to the point where the surg­eries and treat­ments were so reg­u­lar it be­came like a nor­mal rou­tine.

‘‘With all the surg­eries, I kind of got to the stage where I’d had so many that I got to know all the sur­geons and anaes­thetists so it wasn’t as nerve-wrack­ing be­cause I was fa­mil­iar with all the staff, so it kind of got less scary as it went on,’’ she said.

Char­lotte said hav­ing her mother Tracy by her side was cru­cial.

‘‘I’ve had my mum with me the whole time I’ve been up here and other fam­ily and friends have come and gone so that’s been a re­ally big help.

‘‘If I was sit­ting here on my own I would not have got­ten through it like I have.’’

A gofundme page was set up to raise money for the cost of Char­lotte’s med­i­cal treat­ment. So far $7900 has been raised from the ini­tial tar­get of $10 000.

Char­lotte ad­mit­ted it had been a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence to see the sup­port from the Strath­mer­ton and Co­bram com­mu­ni­ties as well as all her friends in Mel­bourne (where she now lives).

‘‘It’s been in­sane, all the fundrais­ing that has hap­pened.

‘‘Even at the Strathy pub and the lo­cal footy club hav­ing tins for me was amaz­ing.

‘‘My old high school Co­bram Angli­can Gram­mar have done their Fa­ther’s Day raf­fle for me. Even at my uni they’ve had sausage siz­zles and things like that to help out.

‘‘Even peo­ple I don’t know that well have done so much for me; I just can’t wait to get home and thank ev­ery­one and give them a big hug.’’

While the com­mu­nity’s care and com­pas­sion was ex­tra­or­di­nary, Char­lotte’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to beat the in­fec­tion has been in­spir­ing.

‘‘I just kind of thought, well, I’m here, there’s noth­ing I can re­ally do about it so I just de­cided to make the most of it while I was here.’’

But while she has put on a brave face for the ma­jor­ity of her stay in hospi­tal, she said she’d had mo­ments when it seemed al­most im­pos­si­ble to re­main up­beat.

‘‘There were some days I just couldn’t stop cry­ing. So many peo­ple climb a fence and noth­ing hap­pens to them and I was won­der­ing why this had hap­pened to me — but I would have my cry and re­alise there was noth­ing I could do about it and I would have to pull my­self to­gether again.’’

Now the tears are be­hind her, Char­lotte said the mem­ory of what she had been through would only serve to make her stronger.

Key mile­stone: While a shower is an ev­ery­day ac­tiv­ity for most, to Char­lotte it rep­re­sented a key mile­stone in her re­cov­ery from a flesheat­ing in­fec­tion. She is pic­tured here cel­e­brat­ing her first proper shower in 10 weeks.

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