“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…

Closer (UK) - - Contents - Visit Donna’s fundrais­ing page at Just­giv­ing.com/crowd­fund­ing/ lind­sey-mcen­roe or fol­low her jour­ney on Face­book at Face­book. com/groups/259352621290181

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.

UN­RECOG­NIS­ABLE

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.”

LIFE-SAV­ING SURGERY

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.

CRIP­PLING ANX­I­ETY

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.

LONG RE­COV­ERY

“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

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