By Alyce Collins
DOCTORS feared this woman had LEPROSY or the PLAGUE when she was placed in isolation after a year of suffering symptoms including sores which bled and fell off due to a baffling infection, but she admits that she sometimes worries she can still feel it inside her.
In autumn 2017, video content producer, Rachel Star Withers (33) from South Carolina, USA, first noticed her chest going bright red for up to 10 minutes before returning to normal.
Rachel developed lumps on her face which opened up like sores, but doctors insisted the symptoms were just cystic acne. Having had acne for many years, Rachel knew this wasn’t true, but doctors only prescribed her acne medication for months.
Rachel continued to take the medication despite the lumps on her face becoming incredibly painful. By Spring 2018, she had an allergic skin reaction all over her body, although never having any allergies before. The allergic reactions kept happening, although the reaction didn’t cause itching, in fact causing intense pain.
Rachel had to pursue many doctors before tests were finally run in September 2018 after the sores on her face would bleed profusely and chunks of her face seemed to fall off.
In October 2018 Rachel received a call from the Infectious Diseases department of the hospital telling her to get to the hospital immediately. For the next eight nights, Rachel was placed in isolation and placed on IV drips to rid her body of the infection which was spreading throughout her body.
Although doctors can’t be certain what infection Rachel had, it was suggested that while travelling to Asia she picked up a bacterium which isn’t found in America. Other suggestions included leprosy and the plague because of Rachel’s bizarre symptoms.
“In 2017 I noticed that my upper chest started randomly flushing bright red for about five to 10 minutes before dissipating,” said Rachel.
“I became constantly exhausted and eating was hard because everything made me sick. In total I lost 1st 7lb.
“I knew the painful deep bumps which felt like hard balls and opened into sores weren’t acne. I had been taking photos of my face getting worse, but doctors refused to look at my photos.
“I asked all the doctors I saw to swab the sores on my face, but they refused, saying it wouldn’t matter. I was told it was cystic acne by one doctor and another told me I had cystic acne and inflammatory acne at the same time.
“I took the prescribed acne medication, but it just got worse. I could feel deep in my face a throbbing pain. Slowly over a few days it would turn into a hard ball under my skin, then it would split open and become an open sore.
“I felt embarrassed by my face because you can’t really cover open sores with makeup as that would make it worse. To most people it just looked like really bad acne, and that’s why doctors didn’t bother testing my skin. I didn’t have a fever which is a typical sign of infection.
“The hives hit in spring 2018 – I had never had hives before in my life or been allergic to anything. One night they hit over my whole body and it felt like I was being stabbed with needles all over.
“It was so frustrating to develop all these new symptoms and I felt like no one was listening to me.
“At the end of September 2018, a doctor told me allergies were the cause for my skin, the hives and sickness. They said that in addition to the allergies I had a yeast overgrowth in my gut, even though no tests were done. The doctor said I had to start this diet to kill all the yeast, and I said I would go ahead with it only if she swabbed my face.
“By this time the flushing of my chest had got worse and so heat from the shower or sweating would cause me to turn bright red everywhere. It turned red and would bubble up with lumps. By September it would make me fall to the ground until the pain had gone because it was so severe.
“A few days after they did the tests my doctor’s office called and told me I had an infection and needed to pick up antibiotics right away. I was on them for 10 days, but they didn’t help. The infection was Klebsiella Oxytoca, which doctors said I couldn’t have had.
“The day after I finished the antibiotics, I was driving home and my arm had been aching, but I noticed my tongue felt swollen. Then the right side of my face felt heavy and began to droop.
“My parents took me to the hospital and a doctor told me he thought it was just pins and needles, but in reality what was happening was the infection had spread to my nervous system.
“In following weeks, areas of my skin would die, and small holes started to open up on my face. I woke up not being able to feel a large portion of my right cheek.
“The doctor had blood tests done and forwarded them to the Infectious Diseases department at the hospital. A few hours later they called me and told me to go directly to the Emergency Room.
“Once there I was put on morphine and placed in isolation. The room had a decontamination area outside and for two days it was mandatory for nurses to wear protective clothing.
“I was supposed to have the infected parts of my face cut off for testing but while waiting for the plastic surgeon, the dead parts of my face and leg rotted off and scabbed over. New tissue began growing in the first few days.”
Rachel was in isolation for eight nights before being sent home and connected to IV drips twice a day for the following month.
Doctors still aren’t sure what exactly to diagnose the infection as because it’s unidentifiable, but the closest thing to it was Klebsiella Oxytoca.
“It shouldn’t have been possible for me to be infected with Klebsiella Oxytoca,” said Rachel.
“The Infectious Disease doctor thinks while traveling I picked up a rare strain of the bacteria from another country and it was mislabelled because it isn’t known in the USA.
“I didn’t fit any of the typical signs of an infection- no fever, I had it for a year, it spread really slow and I had the symptoms of many different diseases but tested negative for all of them.
“On paper my infection shouldn’t be possible and even if it was, it has a 100 per cent mortality rate. The infection was in my spine, neck, nervous system, skin and blood. I say I’m okay, but I still sometimes worry I can feel it inside me.
“My hospital discharge papers just have ‘infection’ listed as my final diagnosis. None of it was scary, in a way it was all hilarious the way things kept escalating.
“Before being admitted to hospital I saw 10 different doctors, and then once I was in the hospital, I had five doctors observing my case.
“It was a necrotising soft-tissue infection, but other diagnoses were thrown around, including leprosy and even the plague.
“I was left with some facial scars and I take nerve dulling medication to help me sleep. I still randomly turn red on my chest and the scars light up red.
“I am getting my physical energy back slower than I had planned, but I like to tell people that all this is my superhero origin story – or villain, time will tell.”
You can see more of Rachel’s recovery by visiting @rachelstarlive.