Why I’m all smiles after holiday hell
TERRIFYING FLESH-EATING DISEASE LEFT GRADUATE HOURS FROM DEATH
IT was the holiday of a lifetime that turned into a nightmare, and it all started with a mosquito bite.
Donna Cox, 22, flew to south-east Asia to celebrate the end of her masters degree and embark on an adventure.
Donna, from Wardle, Rochdale, had all of the necessary vaccinations and booked a one-way ticket to Vietnam in September.
“I was having the time of my life,” Donna said. “I met some absolutely amazing people. I never expected it all to end as quickly as it did.”
Donna’s ordeal started when she noticed a painful mosquito bite on her right leg when she was in Cambodia.
“There was a lump around the bite on my shin. It just didn’t seem right.
“I’d been bitten loads when I was over there. The mosquitos seemed to love me. But the redness and the pain around this one bite started to spread up and down my leg.”
Donna went to a pharmacist to get antibiotic cream on the advice of a hostel manager, but a day later the swelling returned and it became too painful for her to put weight on her right foot.
“I remember saying to some of the girls in the room ‘Guys, I’m not being dramatic but I think I’m going to die or lose my leg.’ I was only joking but it almost ended up coming true.”
With cash running low, Donna decided to book a flight back to the UK in October. It was a painful flight back and when she made it to Rochdale the bite only got worse.
Donna ended up in Rochdale Infirmary, where an x-ray revealed a ‘collection’ under her leg.
Doctors consulted with the North
Manchester Infectious Diseases team and the next day Donna was rushed to the Royal Oldham Hospital where she was diagnosed with a flesh-eating infection called necrotising fasciitis. The rare bacterial infection spreads rapidly and can be fatal.
Donna began to fall unconscious and developed sepsis. Her body was starting to shut down.
The following four days were a blur. She had three operations on her leg and was diagnosed with compartment syndrome. Donna signed a form consenting for her leg to be amputated should her condition worsen. She had another limb-saving procedure to ease the pressure building in her right leg. “The bone in my leg had softened and the necrotising fasciitis was eating my leg,” she said. “It was only because I was young and strong that I survived.” Medics left Donna’s wounds open to ease the pressure in her lower leg, before closing it with 90 staples.
At one stage she wore an eye-mask so she couldn’t see her leg. Doctors told her if she had gone to hospital four hours later she would have died. “I was in hospital for five weeks in total,” Donna said. “The consultants and all the staff were absolutely amazing. But I had some very dark moments when I was there and I felt really isolated at times.
“So many people go travelling and there are times where I feel angry that this happened to me. I’m still struggling to process what happened because so much of it is a blur.”
Donna has lost all sensation in her lower right leg and is now learning how to walk again.
Her leg is covered in scars and she has foot drop. But she is determined to regain her strength and managed to walk across the stage at her graduation at Edge Hill University.
“It’s had such a dramatic impact on my life. I used to love being active and would go to the gym every day. Now I struggle to walk to the bathroom.
“All of my independence has been stripped away from me and that’s been really hard. There are so many things you take for granted. I can’t bend my toes in my right foot any more and that’s really difficult.
“It’s only thanks to my amazing friends, family and everyone at the hospital that I’ve got through this.
“That’s why walking at my graduation was such a massive moment for me.
This whole experience has put everything into perspective.
“If my story encourages people not to ignore any bites or pains and potentially saves their life, it will make what happened that little bit easier for me to accept.”
I remember saying ‘Guys, I’m not being dramatic but I think I’m going to die or lose my leg’
The bite on Donna’s leg Donna Cox at her graduation ceremony last month and, inset, a mosquito