26.02.2024

Fit cross country runner, loses a leg to rare flesh-eating bug but survives

A woman has been left permanently disfigured after contracting a rare ‘flesh eating’ bug which resulted in her leg being amputated and her using a wheelchair.

Emma Doherty, 37, caught life-threatening infection Necrotising Fasciitis, also known as the ‘flesh-eating disease, while being treated for sepsis in February 2021.

Necrotising fasciitis is a rare and life-threatening infection that can happen if a wound gets infected.

It infects the soft tissue below the skin, particularly the fascia and is most common on the legs but can affect any part of the body.

Emma, a previously-fit cross country runner, believes she caught the disease while she was in hospital and her immune system was low.

Emma Doherty, 37, caught life-threatening infection Necotising Fasciitis while being treated for sepsis in February 2021

Whilst in hospital the infection became so severe she was forced to have her leg amputated

The former cross country runner is now permanently disfigured and in a wheelchair (Pictured with mother Marie Keane)

The former cross country runner is now permanently disfigured and in a wheelchair (Pictured with mother Marie Keane)

Whilst in hospital the infection became so severe she was forced to have her leg amputated

She was given a less-than 1% chance of survival and doctors told her mother to consider turning off her life support machine.

She said: ‘It affected 85% of my body. The infection was moving through my body [so fast] the only way to stop it was to cut the [affected tissue] away.’

Emma had the tendons removed from her left wrist, and was left with severe nerve damage in the arm.

Extensive skin grafts mean the majority of her stomach covered in skin just 2mm thick.

She lives in constant fear that even the slightest cut or injury could leave her internal organs exposed.

But despite this, she feels lucky to be alive after doctors told her mum she should turn off the life support machine while she was in a coma.

Her mother Marie Keane said: ‘I was shown pictures of her intestines and organs.

‘On the third day it was like a sickly green film and I asked what it was and they said it was the infection creeping up, and if it hit her major organs there’s nothing they could do.

‘They put me under so much pressure to turn off the life support, but something in me kept telling me she’s still there, and there was no way I was letting her go.’

Emma took pictures of her hand after she contracted Necrotising Fasciitis

Emma took pictures of her hand after she contracted Necrotising Fasciitis

The flesh eating infection ate away at her skin revealing pus and sores

Tragically it spread around her body and also ate away at her arms

Tragically it spread around her body and also ate away at her arms

Emma moved from South East London, hoping for a ‘fresh start’ in Blackpool, Lancs.

She was promised rehab to help her to re-learn basic tasks – like talking, feeding herself and using the bathroom.

But since it happened during Covid, she said she didn’t get the support she needed from the NHS.

Instead, social services placed her in a care home for elderly people, where she frequently saw residents who had died from Covid being taken away.

With no council houses available, she was found accommodation in a Blackpool B&B.

Then on the day before she was due to move in they learnt it was unsuitable, because her wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the door.

Emma now lives with her mother at Swans Rest Holiday Lodges and Cottages in nearby Poulton-le-fylde, Lancs.

She added: ‘I don’t feel any further on that I was a year and a half ago. All I ever get told is that I’m a very complex case.

‘I’d think that would warrant a complex plan but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to happen.’

Two years on from her diagnosis, she is getting one 30-minute physiotherapy session a week, which she says is not enough as she didn’t get the intense rehab she was promised.

Whilst in hospital he was given a less-than 1% chance of survival

At one point, doctors advised her mother to turn off her life support (Pictured together)

Emma is now trying to raise money to buy a lightweight wheelchair, a hoist and ramp

Now she is trying to raise money to buy a lightweight wheelchair, a hoist and ramp for the car, an anti-stumble electronic prosthetic leg, hydrotherapy and private physio.

She added: ‘I feel very let down. I can’t propel myself in the chair because of my injuries and it’s so heavy my mum, who has recently had a knee replacement, can’t even lift it into the car.

‘I don’t want to remain in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I used to go cross country running, I love dancing and had a really good social life.’

Emma is using TikTok to raise awareness of the disease she says is ‘so rare that most doctors only read about it in textbooks’.

She added: ‘I plan on documenting every step of the way and keep everyone informed. Not enough is known about NF a lot of people are scared about it.

‘It can happen to absolutely anybody. Because I had sepsis, my immune system was down and I had an infection in the blood so it made me susceptible.’

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: ‘We can confirm that were involved in Emma’s discharge from hospital and are providing assistance to allow her to live as independently as possible.

‘Due to a lack of appropriate housing when she needed to be discharged, the decision was initially made to temporarily transfer Emma to a care facility where she could receive the appropriate care.

‘Emma now lives with her mum and receives support.

‘We appreciate the situation must be frustrating for Emma and her family and we will continue to work with them to try to resolve any concerns they may have about Emma’s care.’

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