Ashley Bleas

My name is Ashley Bleas, and I am 17 years old (will be 18 in March). I live in Powell, Ohio and am a Senior in High School. I have been very active in horseback riding for the last 7 or 8 years. I ride American Saddlebred horses and also show them around the Midwest. In October 2004, I was in Michigan showing a baby horse at a show. While getting the filly ready on Saturday, I accidentally poked my right arm on a small wire that was attached to the stall door. I thought nothing of the poke and continued working to get the horse ready. I had no reason to believe that anything bad would come from the wire as it didn't even bleed (which I later came to find was worse). I arrived back home in Ohio on a Sunday night and went about my life as I usually do. The next morning, I woke up with a very strange feeling in my right arm. It was the same arm that had been poked, but it was also the arm that I led that baby with. I disregarded the weird feeling and figured that the horse must have jerked my arm while I was showing her. Once I arrived at school, the weird feeling had turned into a dull shooting ache up my entire forearm. It was something I had never really experienced before. I didn't concentrate on school much that day because I was so confused by the pain in my arm. I went home and discussed that pain in my arm, and my parents were also bewildered. We all came to the conclusion that I must have pulled a muscle while showing. By that night, I was starting to have tingling sensations in my arm and didn't have as much strength. I remember laying in bed that night so frustrated because I could not find a comfortable position to put my arm. Every time I would put it down, I would get a shooting pain. The next morning, my arm was nearly swollen two time it's normal size and was very red and tender. My mom decided to take me to our physician where we were told that it was most likely just a bad case of cellulitis. He gave me antibiotics and said that it should be better within a couple days. On the way home, I was not able to keep the pills down and unfortunately got sick in the car. My mom was starting to get worried about what was really happening. Since the doctor had said that the swelling and pain would be better by the morning, we waited another night to see what would happen. There was no change that morning, and my mom decided to bring me to the ER. They admitted me to observation for 24 hours and started giving me antibiotics. The redness and swelling had then started creeping up my arm towards my shoulder. They opted to send me for an X-ray around 2 am that night. At 3:30 am, a doctor came to talk to me and said that I was being taken for emergency surgery. The X-ray showed a very large gas like cloud in my arm. I was told it was gas gangrene and that surgery was the only way to fix it. By 6:00 that morning, I was in the operating room. After the surgery, the doctors were still unsure what I had contracted and said that I would need 2 more additional surgeries to stop the infection. The fascia covering my arm muscle was removed and the surgeons had to leave the incisions open for 5 days because of swelling. Fortunately, I was only in the hospital for about 9 days. We were told that if I had been brought to the hospital 12 hours later than we did, then they would have amputated my arm from the shoulder. It was determined that I had contracted NF, and was lucky to have kept my arm. The third surgery was scheduled to close the incisions and to graft the bottom incision on my arm. Fortunately the skin graft was not needed. I now have four large scars on my arm. One about 11 inches long on the top and bottom of my forearm, and two scars about 4 inches long on the top of my hand. I have to say how thankful I am to have saved my arm, I don't know what I would have done without it. The horses are my life, and I would not be able to participate in the capacity that I do without my arm. This August, I was able to achieve a life long goal of mine and was able to ride at the World Championships in Kentucky. I actually placed 3rd out of 11. This experience was so special to me because I had been told that I wouldn't have full use of my arm after the bout with NF. I have been accepted to William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri where I will be majoring in Equine Sciences.