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Mum of 3 has her leg amputated but survives necrotizing fasciitis

Jun 4, 2020 | Awareness

A mum-of-three reveals she had to have her leg amputated after contracting necrotizing fasciitis.

Josie Wendel, 28, shared her incredible story in a series of 16 TikTok videos, explaining that she became an amputee less than 24 hours after she started feeling sick and had a total of 28 surgeries in less than two months.

‘I am actually the fourth person in the United States to ever have this strand, and the only one to survive,’ she said of the necrotizing fasciitis that nearly took her life. Josie explained that she woke up at 3 a.m. on April 3, 2015, with aches and a fever. She assumed she had contracted a late-season flu and called off work while their 10-year-old son Jake went with his babysitter.

At noon that day, she developed painful muscle spasms in both of her thighs that lasted for hours. She said she spent six hours taking hot showers because that was the only thing that made her feel better. When her husband arrived home at 6 p.m., she made the decision to go to the emergency room. ‘We brought our 10-month-old son with us because we thought it would be a quick in and hour trip,’ she recalled, noting she was a ‘healthy 23-year-old’ at the time.

Josie had to wait to be seen because the local ER was full, and she understood why she wasn’t brought in immediately. ‘I don’t blame them because I didn’t look like an emergent case,’ she said. When she was eventually seen, they did a round of bloodwork and gave her medication to dull the pain in her legs.

‘I’ve had three kids and that’s by far the worst pain I’ve ever had,’ she explained. ‘This medication should have lasted two hours for every dose and it lasted 15 minutes — that’s how bad this pain was.’ Because she lived in a rural area with a small ER, she was told that she would need to be life-flighted to another hospital for treatment.

Josie said she was given a list of hospitals to choose from based on what her health insurance would cover. Her husband called his parents to pick up their son, and then he called Josie’s parents to let them know what was going on. She explained that her parents ended up showing up to the hospital around 9:30 p.m. To keep them busy, she sent them to the store to pick up some essentials for her hospital stay thinking she would only be gone for a couple of days.

After they returned, she suddenly got really hot and ripped her blanket off of her legs. That’s when her father noticed she had a football-sized bruise developing on her left shin that wasn’t there when she arrived at the ER four hours ago.  The doctor told her that if she wanted to live, she needed to be life-flighted to a hospital that was two hours away by car. Josie said her husband knew things were bad when he saw the nurse who had treated her crying. It was a little after midnight when she landed on the hospital’s roof. The last thing she said she remembers is being pushed into the elevator.

‘Apparently, I was coherent and I was talking to everybody, but I don’t remember anything,’ she said. Josie’s surgeon met her husband and mother at the door of the hospital when they arrived so he could sign paperwork and see her one last time. ‘The surgery, the first one I went into, I had a five per cent chance of coming back out,’ she said. ‘So they were doing their due diligence.’

Josie was diagnosed with an incredibly rare strand of necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating bacteria. Less than 24 hours after she woke up feeling sick, doctors had amputated below her knee during her first surgery with the goal of preserving her quality of life. Despite their best efforts, Josie continued to decline in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) and ended up needing hip disarticulation, an amputation in which the entire leg all the way up to the hip joint is removed.

‘Once that infection spreads to your organs, you’re done,’ she explained. ‘There is no coming back from that.’ Two days after the surgery, she started to display common symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis in her forearm and she was rushed into surgery with the risk of losing her right arm. ‘They had to take all my muscle and tendons from the top of my arm, and they had to open up inside to clean it out,’ she explained. They put a skin graft on top of her arm, but she noted that her bone can still be seen underneath.

Josie said she doesn’t remember anything from the two weeks she spent in the hospital except her husband crying and telling her that she lost her left leg, but it was going to be okay. She spent nearly two months in the hospital and had a total of 28 surgeries. She said she never lifted up her blankets to see her missing leg, and because of the phantom pain she felt, she thought part of it was still there.

When her husband wasn’t visiting her in the hospital, he was making adjustments to their home to make it handicap accessible. Josie was in the SICU for three weeks before she was moved to the burn unit to have her wounds changed daily for two more weeks. She spent the last weeks of her recovering in the rehab unit where she had to learn how to do everything with her left arm. She was finally sent home on May 31, 2015.

The mom had only gotten to see her son twice while she was in the hospital, and she had arrived home just in time for his first birthday on June 7. Even though she couldn’t use her dominant and she had to sit in her wheelchair at a 30-degree angle to keep from tearing her skin grafts, she managed to make her son his first birthday cake.

You can read the full story here.

We at The Lee Spark NF Foundation (including our professional network); do not support any advertising found in these links. The wording used, though helpful in raising awareness of necrotising fasciitis, is used in a publication media manner and is not produced by our charity.

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