Kimberly O'Toole

My name is Kimberly O'Toole, I'm currently nineteen and it's been almost exactly one year since I've had Necrotizing Fasciitis. Up until last summer my immune system was very strong, I almost never got sick and if I did, I recovered very quickly. The first blow to my immune system came in midjune when I came down with Lyme disease. I had been having fevers for a week before being put on antibiotics, though I was not diagnosed with lyme disease until I was in the hospital for Necratizing Fasciitis. Not even a month later I discovered a swollen gland in the back of my neck. There were no other symptoms of sickness though, so I ignored it at first. The swelling did not go away, and about a week later I was beginning to have fevers again. I have to admit that I blew this off and did not rest properly, until a few days later, when my fevers became very high. I had a tender spot on my inner left thigh, I was vomiting and had a fever of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I was brought immediately to the local E.R. where I was kept for around 6 hours for blood test and a C.T Scan, and to re-hydrate me. They could not explain the swollenness of my leg, but I tested positive for Mononucleosis, and was sent home again with a steroid prescription. For a few days I seemed to be improving, but then everything went drastically worse. My memory of exactly what happened is disjointed as of this point. I was still feeling ill, and the swollenness of my leg had increased to the point that it hurt to walk. My mother and my boyfriend were helping me walk around the house when my swollen leg began to ooze. My mother, who is an ICU nurse, recognized the severity of this and I was rushed to the doctors. The last thing I remember was being put onto a stretcher. I was brought by ambulance to my local hospital, and from there I was brought by helicopter to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. I was immediately sent into surgery. At this point I had liver, kidney and lung failure. I was in septic shock and my abdomen had to be opened up to release pressure on my organs and to get my lungs working again. My doctors had not expected me to survive the surgery, and were having so much trouble getting my lungs working again, that they were considering ending the procedure and letting me go. It's thanks to the persistence of my surgeons that I am here today. More than half of the skin on my left thigh and groin was removed, as well as the back of my calf and my left hip. Luckily no bone or muscle had to be removed. I was put into the same ICU that my mother works in, and I stayed there for two weeks in an induced coma. At this point I had finally woken up and was transferred to a less intensive unit, where I stayed for another 6 weeks, while the remaining skin on my left leg was stretched to cover muscle and everything else was covered by skin graft. Due to the fact that my abdomen had been opened, I had difficulties eating for a long time. By the time I was discharged from the hospital I was still barely able to walk. I was released from the hospital over a month ahead of the doctor's predictions and I spent only a week in a rehabilitation center, when they had thought I would be there for at least two weeks. My youth benefited me greatly in my speedy recovery and finally I was able to return home at the beginning of October. I continued outpatient therapy for another two months and I was able to ski again by January! I've just recently gained my strength entirely back, and I am currently training for a sprint triathlon this August. I am still learning to be comfortable with my leg and my appearance, but the fact that I came back from being so close to death is a great reminder that I am such a stronger person now. I'm so incredibly thankful to be alive and I owe this mostly to my Mother, who not only recognized my illness but was there for support more than any other person, and to my surgeon, who saved my life, and has been a great supporting and encouraging person in my recuperation as well as in my future goals and aspirations.