During the night blisters developed all over her arm which had swollen to twice its size. She was rushed by ambulance back to the hospital where a surgical team was marshalled to start trying to get ahead of what was diagnosed as necrotizing fasciitis
, an aggressive soft tissue infection associated with the streptococcus group. Kerryn's life was changing forever.The operating team began radical debridement; The skin, fat and portions of the muscle on her arm were removed. She was stabilised and placed in intensive care. In the morning Kerryn's blood was not coagulating and her arm was oozing badly, her vital signs were poor and the infection was progressing. The first operation had finished at 4am. At around 9am she went back into surgery where more dead muscle and part of her shoulder was removed.
During the surgery it became clear that there was nothing much holding her arm on. After consulting with Kerryn's mother and partner, what remained of her arm and shoulder were removed. It was a one in a million piece of bad luck caused by something too small for the eye to see. Bacteria on the road entered Kerryn's body through the gash in her elbow.
This is what happens when drugs are powerless and infections develop at speed. Necrotizing fasciitis moves very fast and antibiotics are too slow. The patient's only hope against this wildly aggressive bacterial infection – nicknamed the flesh-eating disease – is to outrun it by cutting off the infected part.
Kerryn survived because she was very fit. It is a powerful reminder of our modern dependence on antibiotics. For decades we've been able to stop most bugs in their tracks but that can no longer be taken for granted. A crisis is looming. The rise of drug-resistant superbugs is threatening medical practice everywhere.