A WOMAN was left with a gaping hole in her neck after a doctor mistook a “flesh-eating” abscess in her neck for tonsillitis.
Stacey Raymond, 32, went to see her doctor with a sore throat and was sent away with a course of antibiotics in March this year.
But within a few days the office manager, from London, could barely eat or drink because she was in so much pain.
She decided to see a different GP who told her to go to A&E as he suspected there was an abscess in her neck which needed draining.
At hospital, a CT scan showed that Stacey had a parapharyngeal abscess, which occurs deep in the neck area, and needed to be drained.
Her condition quickly deteriorated and she needed emergency surgery as the infection started to eat away at her skin and muscles.
Despite cutting away the dead tissue, doctors feared the infection could still reach her heart – which would be fatal.
They warned her family, who had travelled from her native Johannesburg, South Africa, to prepare for the worst.
Stacey spent the next 32 days in hospital while doctors monitored the gaping hole left on her neck from the surgery to ensure the infection was gone.
She needed a skin graft from her right thigh to replace the dead tissue that had been cut from her neck and decolletage.
Stacey’s ordeal began on March 27 and quickly escalated into a potentially life-threatening situation.
She said: “I woke up with a slightly sore throat but the pain had increased rapidly so I thought it was probably a bout of tonsillitis.
“My wife Michél noticed swelling in my neck, which we thought was swollen glands due to the tonsillitis.
“I went to my GP and was prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics. The GP said it looked like a mild case of tonsillitis as my tonsils weren’t swollen or mucky.
“However, as there was quite significant pain and swelling the antibiotics were needed.”
But the antibiotics didn’t seem to help and within a couple of days she was in agony and her throat was becoming increasingly swollen.
Stacey said that after seeking a second opinion from a private GP she went to hospital, where scans revealed she had abscess that needed drained.
She given IV antibiotics and pain medication and expected to make a full recovery.
But by Monday April 1, she started to deteriorate and the redness on her skin started to move from her neck towards her left arm.
The pain was all consuming and I just wanted it to stop and the red mark on my arm was progressing
She was initially diagnosed with a peritonsillar abscess but this was changed to a parapharyngeal abscess after a CT scan.
Staff realised the serious nature of the illness and she was transferred to another hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit.
“By this point, the pain was all consuming and I just wanted it to stop and the red mark on my arm was progressing,” she said.
“They drained the abscess and when I woke up the next morning, I felt so much better. The pain disappeared and I felt back to my normal self.”
What is a parapharyngeal abscess?
A parapharyngeal abscess is a deep neck abscess.
Initial symptoms are similar to tonsilitis and include fever, sore throat, pain when swallowing, and swelling in the neck.
They tend to be more common in children under the age of five and caused by dental infection, tonsillitis or a peritonsillar abscess.
They are usually diagnosed with a CT scan and treatment is antibiotics and surgical drainage.
A parapharyngeal abscess can be potentially fatal due to possible complications when infection spreads to other areas, including heart and lungs.
It can also lead to sepsis, breathing restriction or aneurysms.
Source: MS Manual
But the next day she became gravely ill again and doctors realised that the infection wasn’t under control and there was more puss leaking out a small cut in her throat from surgery the night before.
Doctors discovered that the infection was still pulsing through Stacey’s body and had even become necrotising, meaning it was eating away at the tissue and muscle.
She was in danger of the necrosis spreading to her heart area, which left her with an almost one hundred per cent mortality rate.
Stacey said: “The doctors expected the worse as the necrotising bacteria had spread and was moving towards my heart area.
“They informed my family that my chances of survival were next to nothing if the bacteria entered my heart area.
“That four-hour surgery was the longest wait for my family as they waited to hear if I would survive.
“Fortunately, it didn’t spread. I was in theatre 10 times because to treat a necrotising infection, they needed to go in and look every 24 hours to ensure the process was under control, so I would go back into theatre for them to wash out and remove any more pus and infection.
“I was then moved to a private ward where the wound on my neck was left open for 32 days because they needed to ensure the infection was gone.
“They removed tissue, skin and muscles, so I was unable to lift my head for weeks.
“I needed a skin graft on my neck but was unable to have this done until I was healthy again.
“I had to learn how to lift my head again as they removed my skin supporting muscles.
“For a long time I had to be flat on my back and use my hand or someone else’s hand to support my head and lift it when I sat up.
“This experience has impacted my physical appearance and I still struggle with my neck and feel stiff constantly.
“However, I see everything in a more positive way and even though it sounds crazy, this traumatic experience is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I am a better person because of it.”
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