Brandi Houser

Most people don't think they're going to die at age 26. And, if they do, it's because of a car accident or something "normal". It's not because they developed necrotizing fasciitis in their c-section incision. October 10, 2006, was the best day of my life. After twelve hours of labor, three epidurals, and a birthing story to rival no other, my son was delivered via cesarean section. Love at first sight. He was 7 pounds, 14 ounces with more jet black hair than you'll find on the heads of most grown men. Ten tiny fingers, ten teensy toes. Perfect. And mine. After nine long months of ultrasounds and dopplers and feet in my ribs, he was finally in my arms. Two days later we were home. Four days after that, the bottom dropped out. I noticed a black spot on my incision which I assumed was a bruise. No biggee. I bruise easily and there had just been a trauma at the sight of the "bruise." Later that day, my fever spiked to 103 degrees and I called the doctor. A diagnosis of mastitis and a prescription called into Walgreens later and I was on the road to recovery. Or so I thought. By the next morning, the "bruise" was raised and appeared fluid filled. Another black spot had risen and I had red streaks running down my left leg. By 11:00 a.m., I was in the doctor's office, by noon in the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, a nurse had the foresight to "map out" the redness and swelling with a marker. When a doctor came by to see me a few minutes later, the redness had already spread outside the areas she had marked. My obstetrician had never seen anything like the infection and wasn't sure what it was. He had sent me to the hospital for 24 hours of antibiotics, but luckily asked one of his colleagues to come have a look at me. It was that colleague that diagnosed the infection as necrotizing fasciitis. He sent a surgeon in to further explain things and figure out the course of action. The prognosis was grim: surgery or die. And even with surgery there was no guarantee I would make it out of the situation alive. Just minutes after the surgeon left, I was wheeled into emergency surgery. All I could think about was my precious little boy, only six days old, and how I wanted so many more days with him. I remember telling the anesthesiologist about my son . . . then waking up four hours later babbling about my job. The surgery had been successful and most of the infected tissue and fascia was removed. I was cut from side to side and the infection had traveled to my groin. The cellulites in my left leg had spread to just past my knee. I was in a great deal of pain, but so lucky to be alive. I spent the first night and the following three days post-surgery in CCU. The wound was left open and had to be packed three times a day. The dressing changes were unbelievably painful. Two days post-surgery, the doctor performed a bedside debridement to remove the remaining "bad spots." I was awake for the procedure but luckily was given an amnesiac. I remember none of the pain. On that same day, I also had a central IV line put in – and at the time was told I would take it home with me. I was also put on the wound vac for the first time. Thanks to the amnesiac earlier in the day, I still don't remember much about putting in the wound vac dressing for the first time. I do remember being so grateful that my dressing changes had moved from three times daily to just three times a week. My fourth day in the hospital, I was moved out of CCU – which I had taken to calling "Skid Row" – and into a regular room. I tried my best to remain in good spirits throughout my hospital stay. It's not in my nature to be pessimistic or feel sorry for myself. But, I was going through so many things. Not only had I just had a major surgery and a frightening illness, but I had also given birth. I wasn't allowed to hold my son – they could bring him to the door and I could look at him, but I wasn't able to touch him or hold him. I was also told at the time that I would never be able to have anymore children. I felt like I was missing out on my son's first days, and that I would never be able to experience those first days with another child. It all felt so terribly unfair to me. The first week post-surgery was so rough. I couldn't get out of bed, couldn't eat, and couldn't move my left leg. Six days after the surgery, I was able to move my leg AND get out of bed for the first time. I sat in a chair for half an hour until the pain grew unbearable. As the second week drug on, it seemed as though I made more and more progress each and every day. On the ninth day of my hospital stay, I was able to hold my son for the first time. On the tenth day, my portable wound vac arrived and on day eleven, late in the afternoon, I was sent home. Once home, I had a home health nurse that came to administer the dressing changes on my wound vac. One week after I came home from the hospital, the wound had closed up enough that I was removed from the vac and went back to the wet-dry dressing. I was so lucky that every single day that went by, I got a little bit better, a little bit healthier, and gained a little more energy. My mother was taught how to do my dressing changes and my nurse no longer had to come out. By early December, the wound had closed up so much that we no longer had to pack the wound. And on January 16, 2007, exactly three months to the day after my surgery, I was fully released by my surgeon. Healed. And in better condition than anyone ever thought I would be. My surgeon even told me it's possible to have another c-section. I cannot begin to describe just how fortunate I feel. I know how devastating necrotizing fasciitis can be, and I feel so blessed that during my entire ordeal I had not one single setback. I would never, ever want to live through the horror of necrotizing fasciitis – wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy – but I am grateful for the lessons it taught me. I know just how precious life is. I'll never again take my health for granted. And every single time I look at my little boy, I realize just how lucky I am to be here to watch him grown and learn new things. I am so, so thankful for Dr. Philip Gullic, my obstetrician, Dr. Andrew Cole, who diagnosed the infection, and Dr. Michael Stanton, who performed the surgery. I know it was there foresight and expertise that is the reason I'm here today! UPDATE June 2008 In September of 2007, I learned that I was expecting an "oops" baby. Doctors had not given me much hope of carrying another child and had pretty much resolved myself to being a mother of one. Finding out I was pregnant again - especially less than a year after my first c-section - was both joyful and frightening. I originally saw the doctor who delivered my older son. He instructed me that the delivery would be done via c-section and would be very, very tricky. After moving out of state, I began to see another doctor. She advised me to consider a VBAC (vaginal birth after ceserean), as she felt a repeat c-section could lead to a repeat infection or significant blood loss. After a lot of thinking, praying, and researching, my husband and I decided to give the VBAC a shot. Going through NF again was just about the worst possible thing I could think of. I was admitted into the hospital on May 9, 2008, for an amniotic induction. The doctor broke my water bag and I labored steadily for 12 hours, dialating to a five. At that point, the baby's heart rate began to accellerate. Since this was a sign that he could be going into distress - and we weren't sure what exactly doctors would find (as far as damage goes) when they opened me up - we decided to do a c-section before the delivery became a true emergency situation. I was terrified of the thought of a c-section, but wanted to do what was best to bring my child into the world unharmed. I was wheeled into surgery a little after 7:00 and was expecting to be back there for a while - given the scar tissue, etc, I was sure was left over from my NF debreedment. The OB used a general surgeon to help him with the ceserean and I was given a vertical incision rather than trying to cut through the area where the NF had attacked. Imagine my surprise when Kyan Alexander was successfully delivered just FOUR minutes after the initial cut! I couldn't believe it! The doctors said there were normal adhesions in the area of the NF, but that the damage was extremely minimal for everything I had been through. I was even given the news that should I remain "in the clear," another child and another c-section would be possible. What wonderful news! I am now almost six weeks post-partum and have had NO complications from this last c-section! I had not been able to find a story anywhere of someone having a successful c-section following NF so I wanted to make sure to share my story.