A woman has told she was left fighting for her life and in a coma for nearly two months after she caught a flesh eating bug — from a ‘toothache’.
Kath Hunter, 53, has suffered from an abscess on a tooth for a decade – but it didn’t hurt and doctors didn’t take action, for fears it might make things worse, she said.
She had largely forgotten about it, and when she started to feel unwell with a swollen neck and sore throat, she was given antibiotics.
It’s the last thing she remembers – until she woke up seven weeks later having been in an induced coma on a ventilator after open chest surgery.
The tooth abscess had developed into a flesh eating bug – which gave her sepsis and filled her chest with 1.5 litres of dangerous pus.
Doctors feared operating would kill her – but took the risk because they had no other option to save her life, and cracked open her chest to tackle the infection.
The grandmother-of-seven was left fighting for her life on a ventilator and in a coma, but against all the odds miraculously survived.
But she had to spend a staggering four months in total in hospital, and had to learn to walk and talk again.
She can’t believe the whole thing was caused by an infected tooth.
Kath from Glyn Neath near Swansea, Wales, said: “It was just there, not causing any bother.
“Now after all these years, it has nearly killed me.
“I’m so mortified I’m tempted to have the rest of my teeth taken out.”
A dentist spotted the abscess on one of Kath’s right pre-molars ten years ago and sent her to the hospital.
But it wasn’t causing her any pain and treatment could see her lose feeling in one side of her face, so they decided to leave it be, she said.
Her throat started to hurt on March 25, and when her neck swelled up two days later, she called her doctor who gave her some antibiotics.
She was also advised to move out of the bungalow she shared with her parents in case she had Covid, because of their age and her dad was on dialysis.
“It’s a good job I didn’t move out”, said Kath, “Because I’d be dead if I had.
“It’s odd because it wasn’t even very painful, just swollen.”
And while Kath can’t remember it now, her family said overnight her face swelled to twice the size and the skin on her neck and chest started to turn black.
Her mum Rosemary Edwards, 85, called an ambulance and she was admitted to Morriston Hospital.
she had necrotising fasciitis from the tooth abscess which gave her severe sepsis.
She also had respiratory failure due to the abscess which spread into the space between her lungs and heart, creating a massive pool of pus in her chest.
The infection was causing the tissue in her chest to DIE and the infection was covering the main vein into her heart.
Her doctors notes reveal experts feared operating – but said she’d likely die if they didn’t try.
Rosemary said: “She looked awful, but I didn’t expect she’d be in a coma by the end of the day.
“One doctor said he felt there was one more thing he wanted to try, but his colleagues wanted to let Kath go peacefully.
“I said do anything you can, she’s got a lot of life to live yet and she’s a grandmother.”
“That was a dreadful time – so horrible.
“When we finished talking he gave the phone back to a nurse and I could hear his footsteps hurrying away.
“I knew it was touch and go for my Kath.
“She’s a grown woman, but when these things happen they’re still your little girl.”
Doctors decided to operate on April 8, and cracked open her chest – an operation usually done for open heart surgery – to try and get rid of all the infection.
Kath said: “It all came out of nowhere, I was fine before.
“On that day I had at least two operations, including open heart surgery, and there was a litre and a half of pus around my heart.
“Then I was ventilated in a coma for seven weeks.”
When Kath woke from the coma she had no memory of what had happened.
Her face, neck and chest were scarred and painful, and she couldn’t walk or talk.
She said: “It was mind-blowing – such a crazy time.
“I couldn’t take it in and they had to drip feed me bits of information.”
Kath stayed in hospital for a further six weeks, until she was able to move around independently.
In this time her dad Keith Edwards, 83, died from heart and kidney disease, and his funeral took place on July 15, the day before Kath came home.
She said the near-death experience forced her to abandon her degree in criminology and psychology which she is looking forward to restarting now.
She said: “My neck and chest are still sore but I’m starting to walk without a frame now.
“And I’m relieved I won’t need ongoing treatment. I’m aiming for a full recovery.
“I tried to join my dad’s funeral on video, but there were so many people doing that it kept freezing.
“Me and my mother haven’t been able to grieve properly yet.”
Mum Rosemary added: “The whole time has been horrendous.
“I couldn’t even go and hold her hand all that time.
“But we’ve come through it now as a family.
“It was wonderful when Kath came home, but my goodness she looked dreadful.
“I was overwhelmed to see her sitting in the chair.
“We were alright after that.”