“A flesh-eating bug destroyed my face”
A fall that resulted in a seemingly harmless scratch on her forehead changed Donna Corden’s life forever. Here, she tells Closer her shocking story…
Donna Corden was D left fighting for her life when a flesh-eating bug ravaged her face, leaving her unrecognisable.
The mum-of-four was making a cup of tea in the kitchen when she slipped and banged her head. She was left with a tiny scratch above her left eyebrow, but just hours later, she was undergoing emergency surgery in a bid to stop the lethal bacteria spreading to her brain.
Donna, 47, had contracted necrotising fasciitis – a rare flesh-eating bug – and medics were forced to remove the infected tissue, before the bug killed her. They had no choice but to cut away part of her face – removing the tissue from just under her left eye, all the way down to her chin.
But now, thanks to complex reconstructive surgery, where skin from her thigh was transplanted onto her hollowed-out face, Donna finally feels like herself again.
Single Donna, from Leeds, says, “I still can’t believe that a tiny cut caused so much damage. When I first saw what was left of my face, I was devastated. It was like a stranger was staring back at me.
“I was lucky to be alive, but I was so depressed. I refused to look in a mirror, I barely left the house and I’d suffer crippling anxiety attacks. Thankfully, my family were amazing and very supportive.
“I’ve had over five gruelling operations, but I’m finally feeling like life is worth living again.”
Donna’s ordeal began when she fell in her kitchen in January 2017. She says, “I banged the side of my head on the oven and was left with a cut on my forehead that was less than 2cm long. But the next day I woke up and felt dizzy and sick. At first, I thought I’d caught a stomach bug, but soon, the left side of my face started turning black and purple. Then my head swelled up to twice the size and blisters suddenly appeared beneath my eye, seeping blood.
“My memories after that are hazy, but I remember being in excruciating pain.”
Horrified, one of Donna’s daughters, Jaydee, 27, called an ambulance. At hospital she was diagnosed with a bacterial infection, necrotising fasciitis, that, at some point, entered her body through the tiny cut on her forehead. While the bug is extremely rare, it’s also deadly, and it’s estimated that one or two out of every five cases are fatal.
“I don’t remember going to hospital, but I later learned that the infection was devouring my flesh at a rate of 3cm an hour,” says Donna. “My family were warned to expect the worst. I was rushed to theatre because if the
bacteria had reached my brain, it would have killed me. My face was literally disintegrating as the surgeon operated. When he put his hand on my cheek it went straight through it.”
During the three-hour operation, surgeons cut enough flesh away to stop the infection spreading and, despite fears she might not make it, Donna pulled through.
Kept in an induced coma, a week later Donna was given a second 13-hour operation. “Surgeons removed a big chunk of muscle, fat and skin from my left thigh,” she explains. “They then stitched it onto my face, over the hollowed-out area.”
Two days later, Donna was brought round and told what had happened. “I was in a huge amount of pain, and couldn’t see properly out of my left eye. I just couldn’t take in what the doctor was saying,” she says. “One minute, I was living an ordinary life, the next, everything had changed. A psychologist warned me that I would look different – but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. I had hundreds of stitches around the left side of my face. The skin around my left eye was black and I had no vision on that side. I felt physically sick – I didn’t recognise myself. I cried for days.”
Donna – who is also mum to 12-year-old Summer – was discharged from hospital five weeks later, but struggled to cope. She adds, “I shut myself away and avoided my reflection. As the stitches healed, I was left with scars, like a zip running around my face. If I went out, people stared and I’d have panic attacks. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings and I was constantly on painkillers. Most days, I had a burning pain like an electric shock all over my face.”
But since May 2017, Donna has had four further surgeries, which involved sculpting the skin that was transplanted from her thigh, to make her appearance more like it was before the infection.
“The operations were painful, but each one picked me up a little,” Donna says. “I still don’t like seeing my reflection, but when I look back at photos from last year, I can see how much I’ve improved. I also have light therapy every week, which has reduced the redness. But I know I’ll need treatment for a long time.”
Donna – who still can’t close her left eye – is now saving to have private reconstructive surgery, because she’s unlikely to be given more under the NHS. She says, “My vision in my bad eye is still blurry and, if I look downwards, the left side of my face droops and feels like it’s falling off. My mouth also pulls down on the left side, which means I can’t smile.
“I’ve seen a surgeon in London, who has suggested inserting metal plates to hold everything in place, but it could cost as much as £30,000. Thankfully, my friends have started fundraising for me, which is giving me hope.
“I’ll be on painkillers for the rest of my life but I’m glad to be alive. There have been times when surviving felt like a punishment, but I know there are people worse off. I’d just love to be able to smile again.”
‘Sometimes surviving felt like a punishment’ ❛MY FACE WAS DISINTEGRATING AS THE SURGEON OPERATED❜
Donna was happy confident before and A rare bacteria ate away half her face
Her family have been supporting her
With daughters Summer and Jaydee before her illness
She’s been left with scars across her face