In early February, Cari Kirkness thought she had the flu. But her illness, which started with a sore throat, quickly spiralled out of control. Soon, the 28-year-old Manitoba mother of two had lost both legs and her right arm to an incredibly aggressive strep infection.
"Her sister bought her stuff like Advil flu, orange juice, and you know, thinking it was just a flu,” her mother, Loretta Kirkness, said.
But it wasn’t the flu -- it was group A streptococcus, a bacteria often found in the throat and on the skin.
According to Manitoba Health, the group A streptococcus bacteria can be responsible for a broad range of illnesses, including a simple sore throat. But in rare cases, it can also lead to invasive, serious illnesses such as necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as the flesh-eating disease, and deadly toxic shock syndrome.
"Within 24 hours our lives just changed,” Loretta said.
With her health deteriorating, Cari went to the ER, and before she knew it, surgeons were on standby.
"I realized it was serious when the doctor told me that I might lose my arm,” Cari said.
Doctors quickly amputated her right arm and a leg, but Cari’s conditions still wasn’t improving. They soon put her into a medically induced coma. The infection, they learned, had travelled to her other leg too. To save her life, they had to amputate it too.
"Then they told us to decide what we wanted to do,” Loretta said. “You have 15 minutes to decide."
The family chose life, then waited, hoping Cari would recover.
"I was praying so much,” Cari’s eldest son, Chaz, said. “I couldn't stop crying."
Chaz’s prayers were answered. Cari is now recovering and will soon begin rehab.
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Cari and her family. The crowdfunding campaign hopes to raise $200,000 to help with childcare costs, a wheelchair accessible van and a down payment on a one-storey home.
With a positive attitude and the support of her family and friends, Cari is confident she’ll be able to meet the challenges life has presented her.
“I like to think positive in every situation that I’m in,” Cari said. “There's no reason to feel sorry for yourself, because it won't change. This is it -- this is the life I was given."
With a report from CTV Winnipeg reporter Jon Hendricks