Ontario woman fights back after flesh-eating disease
Published Monday, July 4, 2011 9:43AM EDT
An Ontario woman is on a remarkable journey to get her life back, after losing both hands and both feet to so-called flesh-eating disease earlier this year.
Cyndi Desjardins, a wife and mother of two from the small community of Holland Landing, north of Toronto, fell ill with what she thought was a severe case of the flu nearly five months ago.
"I was not only vomiting, I had diarrhea and a severe pain in my leg," she recalls. "I was talking to my husband and almost fainted so he called 911."
Desjardins was rushed to hospital, where doctors put her into an induced coma. She had somehow contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but virulent bacterial infection commonly known as flesh-eating disease that strikes about 200 people a year in Canada.
Dr. William Andrade, chief of plastic surgery at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., said the infection is "so severe it actually shuts down blood supply to the organs and to the limbs."
In such circumstances doctors try to keep blood flowing to the patient's organs, Andrade said. Unfortunately, in Desjardins' case, her limbs "just didn't have enough blood supply to survive."
She eventually awoke in hospital, but both of her hands and both feet had been amputated.
Months later, Desjardins has been fitted with prosthetic limbs. She's learning to use them at Toronto's West Park Hospital, and she's determined to live a normal life.
"I am going to walk again, and I am going to get through this," she said. "I will be able to capture my life again, and I'm not going to let this beat me."
Dejardins has been working with Dr. Michael Devlin, a physiatrist at West Park Healthcare Centre in Toronto. She's the first person he has encountered in his 31-year career who's missing all extremities, he said.
A team at West Park has been helping her learn to feed herself and to walk. Next, Desjardins says she wants to learn to change the diapers of her youngest daughter.
Her husband, Marc Wilkens, takes her home from the hospital on weekends and says their goal at the moment is "to set up Cindy's life so she can do as much for herself as possible, to have self-dignity, to be able to contribute to the kids' lives.
"She doesn't want to be a spectator of her life," Wilkens added. "She wants to be a participant of her life."
As she works toward that goal, Desjardins has a message for anyone who comes down with symptoms similar to those that sent her to hospital.
"It'll attack your body very fast," she said. "If you have extreme flu symptoms and a high fever consult your doctor. It's quite often misdiagnosed."
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip