Indiana nurse recovering from flesh-eating bacteria

Nurse Amy Sprunger is recovering from a flesh-eating bacteria. (WTHR / Bill Ditton)
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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Amy Spronger is an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Methodist Hospital, but she was also a patient at for five weeks.

"Remember me?" Spronger asked as she hugged other nurses.

The nurses said seeing Spronger’s visits brings their connection full circle.

"You always think about your patients. What are they like in their outside life,” Brigette Remington said. “It's nice to see that and see someone who came through so much.”

It was 4 1/2 months ago when Spronger woke up after doing yard work with aches and pains thinking she had the flu.

Her thumb felt numb.

"I looked at it, I could tell it was a different color. When we turned the light on my right index finger was completely black."

There was no time to lose. She had contracted necrotizing fasciitis more commonly referred to as flesh-eat bacteria. She spent the next 11 days on an ECMO machine, which serves as the heart and lung of the patient allowing the body to time to heal.

"I remember looking at my husband and my sister when they were wheeling me for a test, and I remember telling them I am not sure that this is going to be a good outcome and to make sure I have a meaningful life,” she said. “I've seen that too many times. I just don't want to be on tubes and life support. I don't want to give that burden to my family.”

Spronger lost a third of the skin on her left leg, part of her right abdomen and all her right index finger.

"I went from wheelchair, to walker, to cane and now walking unassisted," she said.

Despite it all, she feels thankful and wants everyone who treated her at Methodist to know it.

"I think about all the things I would have missed out on,” she said. “I am so grateful to staff at IU Health — the doctors, their quick response to my infection saved my life.”

How you get it

Necrotizing fasciitis occurs when bacteria enters the body, usually through cuts and scrapes, puncture wounds,burns, insect bites or surgical wounds.

For the majority of healthy people, the bacteria does not pose a very big risk. Most people who develop necrotizing fasciitis already have compromised immune systems due to issues including but not limited to:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cancer

These health complications decrease the body's ability to fight bacterial infections.

Necrotizing fasciitis is not generally contagious. "Catching" the disease from another person is very rare, and most cases occur randomly.

Symptoms

Early symptoms of the infection include red or swollen skin that spreads quickly, severe body pain and fever. However, symptoms develop very quickly and can progress into ulcers, blisters or black spots on the skin, dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea or nausea, and pus oozing from infected areas.

Quick action is key when it comes to limited complications from the infection. Diagnosis can be difficult as necrotizing fasciitis can look like a lot of other, less serious infections in its early stages. It may take blood work, tissue samples or various scans to determine the true diagnosis.

This long process could potentially be deadly, as necrotizing fasciitis can lead to sepsis, shock and organ failure.

Even with treatment, the CDC says 1 in 3 people die from the infection.

How to prevent it

It's pretty simple: taker care of open wounds, and stay away from bodies of water if your immune system is compromised.

Clean and cover all cuts, scrapes, burns and other wounds to keep bacteria from entering the skin. Make sure your hands are clean.

Stay away from pools and hot tubs, pools, lakes, oceans and rivers.

There is no vaccine to prevent the infection.