Laura Vincent

It has taken me two years to get up the courage to sit and tell my story. My name is Laura Vincent, I own a small "Mom and Pop" restaurant along with my husband of nearly 10 years and we have 5 children: a foster child named, Devin who is 17, Zach who is 17, Brianna who is 7, Emma is 4 and Olivia is 3. I have accomplished many things in my life that I am quite proud of, but my children are my biggest pride. I am also a survivor of a deadly bacterial infection called Necrotizing Fasciitis. The press has dubbed it the "flesh eating bacteria" – making it sound precisely as scary as it is. Two years ago on April 29th at around 5:30 am, I slipped and suffered a tiny bump on my rear end that was more embarrassing than painful. During that fall, I scraped the left side of my knee that was no more than a tiny abrasion – I had no idea that it would later become what the doctor's believed to be the "point of entry" for this horrifying disease. After my fall, I spent the rest of the day working at our restaurant as I would any other normal Saturday afternoon. I left the restaurant around 4:00 pm and came home to tackle the evening's chores of feeding, bathing and tucking in the three little girls and then tracking down the teenagers to see what their plans were for the night. My husband and I usually had about an hour together at home before he went in to work the night shift and close. My 2 year old (now 4) had remembered that I promised to plant flowers with her – so that was what I started tackling when I walked in the door. We did that for about 45 minutes and then came inside to get cleaned up for dinner while my husband got ready to go to work. After showering, I realized that I was becoming incredibly tired – more so than usual – and that I really felt kind of nauseous. I laid down on the couch in our den area and immediately fell asleep. This was extremely unusual for me, and my husband realized I must be coming down with something, so he called the restaurant and told them to cover for him for a bit so he could help me out by getting the kids fed and bathed. Apparently by the time he finished that, I was still asleep and he couldn't get me to wake up – I was real groggy and I had a fever now. I remember that I felt like my "eyeballs were burning". I kept telling Bryan that over and over. He went ahead and decided to stay home and around 9:00 pm I remember waking up and I was starving! I was craving this salad he always made for me with beef tenderloin tips and sautéed bell peppers – it's crazy now, I can still remember that it was the best thing I had tasted in a long time. I drank a bunch of water – I was dying of thirst – and went right back to sleep. At around 11:00 Bryan helped me into bed and I quickly went back to sleep. I still don't remember when it started exactly, or even how I made it to the bathroom from the bed, but I was throwing up in the toilet and I remember being so tired between vomiting that I would lie down on the bathroom floor. I know that Bryan woke up once to check on me and I told him to go back to bed, I just had a stomach bug. I was shocked he even woke up! Being the night worker in the family, once he was out, he was out. He brought me a pillow to lay my head on and said he would check on me again soon. I really don't know how much longer this went on, but I remember thinking I had far surpassed throwing up what I had actually eaten, and that maybe something was wrong. When I tried to move, I couldn't feel my legs, much less move them. I called for Bryan and he came in and I told him I thought something was wrong, really wrong. He went and woke up Zach and told him to watch the girls because he needed to bring me to the ER. Zach came in the bathroom to check on me, and tried to help me up, but I was nonresponsive and was dead weight. He told Bryan that he didn't think he could get me to the car, and that maybe we should call 911. I was talking whenever I regained consciousness off and on and I kept saying I couldn't feel my legs. Zach got me to the living room couch and then the paramedics were standing over me yelling at me to answer their questions and not go to sleep. I really only remember one EMT in my face asking me what was wrong and he just kept saying "Ms. Vincent, you need to wake up and answer the questions". I wanted to slap him because I would love to just wake up, but I couldn't! They got me into the ambulance and my husband followed in his truck. I think everybody thought I had a stomach bug and was kind of being a baby – I remember feeling pretty dumb myself; then they took my vital signs and the tone of the whole transport changed – I remember the sirens and lights being flipped on and one EMT saying to the other to get there – fast. The last thing I remember about the ambulance ride was speeding over the railroad tracks in what I assumed was Cedar Park, because as hard as I tried to think, those where the only railroad tracks I could think of. We got to the hospital and I was put in a regular room while all of my vitals where checked and my blood pressure was 80/40 and dropping every time they checked it. I had a fever, but I don't remember what it was. I still remember thinking my eyeballs were burning – so bad. They transferred me to the Trauma unit when they checked my blood pressure again and it was 70/30. I remember thinking that I had been poisoned or something – I was delirious and I couldn't think of what was making me so sick. It was around that time that my rear end started to hurt. It kind of felt like an ache but kept getting worse and worse. The doctors apparently turned me over to look at it, but could see nothing but a slight bruise. Every time they touched it though it hurt worse and worse. I remember begging for Bryan and my Dad (who had arrived shortly before) to get them to give me something. I said I must have been bitten by a spider when I was planting flowers with Emma. Bryan said he started to tell me that they were getting me some pain meds and would be right back, but he was stalling because they couldn't give pain meds to anybody with such a low blood pressure. I don't remember anything until I heard my husband ask the doctor if they were going to "tell me or not". By this time the pain was indescribable. If I wasn't dying, I wanted to, quickly. Then I remember a nurse getting down in my face and telling me I was going into surgery that I had a flesh-eating bacteria. I had never even heard of such a thing. Months later, I found out that we got to the ER about 3:00 am and they made the diagnosis (the 3rd doctor to examine me) at around 8:45 am and I was in the operating room at 9:03 am when Dr. Troy Thompson made the first cut to start the debridement to save my life. From 9:00 am May 1st until noon on May 10th I don't remember much. I remember my Dad standing over me crying and I had a tube down my throat and my arms tied to the bed so I couldn't wipe his face off for him. God, I remember that vividly. I remember being put on the ventilator a second time when my lungs had collapsed, that awful gagging feeling is hard to forget. I remember my mom's voice in the background begging them to please put me under so I wouldn't remember anything – ever. And that's it. Until May 10th – they wrote the date on the dry erase board in front of me, so I guess that's where I got the date. I had IV's in my neck, both arms, a pick line in my heart, a feeding tube, a urine bag and an excrement bag jutting out of me. No one really wanted to tell me what happened, but the pain and the fact I couldn't "sit" was hard to explain without details. I had a 9 by 11 wide hole that was about 6 inches deep on what used to be my left buttock. The bacteria had eaten up to within ¼ of an inch away from my anus and my vagina – I was lucky. Dr. Troy Thompson had managed to do the impossible: he had removed all of the deadly bacteria in one surgery. He went back in the next day because he thought it was spreading but it turned out to be trapped fluid. I survived the first stage but had many, many more to go. I had a wound vac attached to my would that was stapled to the skin. It had to be changed every other day to prevent infection, but the process was so incredibly painful that they had to put me under full anesthesia and in the operating room to change the dressing. I spent 2 weeks in ICU and 3 weeks in the step down unit of Round Rock Hospital, the first time I was in the hospital. I have read the horror stories and I know all of the deaths this horrifying bacterium has caused people of all ages, healthy or unhealthy. I am lucky to be alive. I know that this is true. I thank God everyday that I am still here. Since that night in April of 2006 I have had approximately 25 – 30 operation and procedures. I have had 2 skin grafts. I learned to walk again and I wore diapers for a while right along with my toddlers. I have cried so many tears I lost count. I have gone through a period of withdrawal from the many pain killers I had to be on that have made me appreciate and understand the horrors that heroin addicts face when they are just trying to make it through the day. I have tried to understand why me? Why didn't I die? Why did I get sick? My family suffered as much as I did. My children went to bed one night thinking mommy was a little sick, and didn't see me normal ever again. They panic when I go to the store now without them. My teenagers would rather not be close to me anymore than get close and be that scared again. We spent every dime we had trying to keep the restaurant afloat while I spent 2 years recovering and surviving. What some don't realize is that this disease does goes on forever. Your body is mutilated and you never really function the same again. You constantly have lung problems, kidney problems, liver problems, etc. You live in fear of a paper cut getting infected. You live in fear of someone having Strep Throat and you not knowing it. I am getting stronger every day. I learned that I did die that night, or at least that Laura Vincent died. Before I became ill, I went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday school to kids, volunteered at Vacation Bible School and worked with the Youth at our church. I believed in God is my point. I am the kind of person that believed for sure, but had never felt like I knew for a fact that He was as almighty and powerful as I had been taught in Church. I have always been kind of a "if you can't see it or touch, how do you really know it's there" kind of person. A couple of years before I got sick I had given my testimony at Church to the high school students at the bequest of our Youth Pastor; I had been involved in drugs as a teenager and he was doing a series on the "411 of Life". I got up in front of a room full of students, including my own, and told my story. It was the first time I had let that guilt and shame go and when I walked out of that room, I was a changed person. I remember asking God to just give me a little tiny sign that He was there, and I was on the right track. I looked down and there was a penny at my feet – I can be oddly superstitious at times, and can always use good luck, I picked it up and thought nothing more about it. I remember laughing a little inside that I was actually praying that God give me a sign, like he has time right? It was about a week later when I realized I had found a penny a day, in all kinds of places – every day – without fail. Through all of this, the illness the surgeries, the detox, the financial worries, etc., everyday, still I find a penny. When I sometimes let the enormity of my situation get to me and I get so, so depressed I think I just can't go on, I look down and every time, no matter where I am at (even the shower one time!) there is the penny. I always smile through the tears and look up and say "thanks, I needed that". So here I am, 2 years later, changed in so many new and exciting ways. The IRS came in last week to seize our business and we had to hire a lawyer to fight it; our mortgage company is starting foreclosure proceedings on our home and we have barely enough money to get by, but I don't worry, because I know that God is never going to give me more than I can handle. He has given me so much, a wonderful husband, 5 beautiful children, a business that we love and a home that makes you feel happy when you walk in the door – but most of all he let that old, pessimistic, Laura Vincent die back on April 30, 2006, and created the new Laura Vincent, that loves to be alive and counts each and every day as a blessing. My ONLY reason for writing this story is so that you will read it, and go hug your spouse, your parents, your kids or the mailman – whatever – enjoy life and consider each day a blessing. And when the IRS is beating down your door or the lights get turned off because you can't pay the bills, or they take your house, CRY! Do it! Scream, beg to understand, get it out! Then look down at your feet and pick up that penny – because I promise you will find it – and look up and THANK GOD for all he has given you. Live, Love and Laugh Often