It was a dream vacation for Sydney Shipley from Williamstown, New Jersey, who went to Paris in August 2017 with her then-boyfriend and his mother. But soon her first-time adventure outside the US turned into a nightmare as she had to undergo a life-saving surgery back at home.
The 21-year-old was hours away from losing her left leg when she underwent the emergency operation to remove a huge, teardrop-shaped chunk of flesh infected with a muscle-eating disease. "The doctors said if I had waited a few hours longer I would have lost my leg and if I'd waited another day I probably would have died," Shipley told the Daily Mail.
Describing her ordeal, the bank cashier said she was on her trip to the French capital in August when she suddenly developed rashes on her inner thighs due to the summer heat. Initially, she thought it as an ordinary one. But soon, the red patches started to burn her skin, became puffy, and started to spread covering most of her thigh area.
The infection left her bed-ridden and by the end of the summer holiday, Shipley's leg had swollen to twice its regular size. Recalling the horrific time, the woman said she was wheeled onto the plane home and the moment she landed, she was rushed to the hospital where doctors were shocked to see her condition.
It was found that she was infected with necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as flesh-eating disease.
"All the doctors and nurses that came into the room were in shock and covered their mouths. They kept saying, 'we are running out of time.' It was very scary but all I knew was that I needed it to be over. If they had to cut my leg off I was ready for that to be done," Shipley said.
"The doctors said if I had waited a few hours longer I would have lost my leg and if I'd waited another day I probably would have died," she added.
Few months after the operation, Shipley had a skin graft using a bio-engineered skin which left her with a permanent scar. She said that it was hard for her for some months to look at her own leg but now she believes the incident has changed her perspective towards life.
Shipley is now planning to warn others about the life-threatening disease.
"Doctors think the necrotizing fasciitis got into my rash after I touched something with my hands and then touched my thigh, but no one knows for sure," the woman was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
Shipley added that she wanted to tell people not to take their rashes lightly and "if you have any sign of an infection, go to a doctor or urgent care if you feel it might be more serious. If you don't, you could end up losing a limb or your life. It's not worth the wait".
What is necrotizing fasciitis?
Necrotizing fasciitis, or in layman's language flesh-eating disease, is an infection that results in the death of the body's soft tissue. Dr Michael Silverman, an infectious disease specialist with London Health Sciences Centre, says recognising necrotizing fasciitis "can be tricky" but is treatable if detected early.
"This is still a very rare infection," he added.
The common symptoms of the infection are red or purple skin in the affected area, severe pain, fever and vomiting. It generally hit areas like limbs and perineum.
Dr Silverman said that the infection normally enters the body through a break in the skin such as a cut or burn and a person can recognise it when the pain starts to emit outward from a cut or scrape.
"It's not just a paper cut, where you are feeling right where the little cut is. This is something where someone may have a cut on the finger and now they note that the hand, and the whole arm, is starting to really hurt. A severe deep pain. And that is very worrisome," he said.