By Alyce Collins
THIS BRAVE woman was rushed into SURGERY after doctors realised what they assumed was TONSILLITIS was an infected abscess that was causing NECROSIS to spread towards her HEART – leaving her with an almost zero per cent chance of survival.
Office manager, Stacey Raymond (32) originally from Johannesburg, South Africa but now living in London, UK, sensed a sore throat on Wednesday March 27, 2019 and by the next day it had become much worse and there was swelling in her neck, causing her to go to her GP.
Stacey was given five days of antibiotics as her GP believed she had a mild case of tonsillitis. Unfortunately, by Saturday Stacey could barely eat or drink because it was too painful. After going to a private GP for a second opinion, Stacey was told to go to A&E as the GP believed there was an abscess in her neck which needed draining.
At the hospital, Stacey was placed on IV fluids, antibiotics and pain medication as an ENT consultant believed she had a peritonsillar abscess, a bacterial infection caused by untreated tonsillitis. The medication didn’t show signs of helping as Stacey was left in pain and an area of red skin had shown up on her neck, spreading down her left arm.
A CT scan confirmed that the initial diagnosis was incorrect as Stacey had a parapharyngeal abscess, which occurs deeper in the neck area. After being transferred to another hospital with a specialist cardiothoracic team, Stacey underwent surgery to drain the abscess. Within 24 hours, her condition deteriorated, and she was taken back to theatre as the infection had spread, with the bacteria becoming necrotising. Despite plastic surgeons cutting away muscle and tissue, the necrotising infection was spreading towards her heart area, so Stacey’s family was warned that her survival rate of almost zero per cent if it reached her heart area.
Thankfully the infection was caught before it reached Stacey’s heart area but she had to spend 32 days with the wound on her neck left open so it could be observed, and doctors could ensure the infection was gone. By May 7, Stacey underwent a skin graft as skin was taken from her right thigh to replace the necrotised skin from her neck and décolletage.
“On Wednesday March 27, I woke up with a slightly sore throat but by Thursday the pain had increased rapidly so I thought it was probably a bout of tonsillitis” said Stacey.
“My wife Michél noticed swelling in my neck, which we thought was swollen glands due to the tonsillitis.
“On Thursday 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 significate pain and swelling the antibiotics were needed.
“By Saturday I could hardly eat or drink as my throat was so sore and becoming increasingly swollen. My parents suggested going to a private GP for a second opinion. The private GP was unhappy with my symptoms and thought it might be an abscess so called ahead to let the A&E know to expect me.
“The A&E ENT consultant who admitted me appeared to recognise that it looked like a peritonsillar abscess in my neck which needed to be drained. I was given IV antibiotics and pain medication and was expected to make a full recovery.
“By Monday April 1, I deteriorated and the redness on my skin started to move from my neck towards my left arm. I was sent for a CT scan which suggested migration of pus towards my arm, and they had also discovered that there was some fluid on one of my lungs.
“The diagnosis changed from a peritonsillar abscess to a parapharyngeal abscess, at which point the staff realised the serious nature of the illness and I was transferred to another hospital with an expert cardiothoracic team.
“Once I was transferred, they admitted me to ICU before surgery. By this point, the pain was all consuming and I just wanted it to stop and the red mark on my arm was progressing.
“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. The physio got me out of bed, and I was able to eat normally. We thought that would be the end of it and it had been resolved.
“I spent that night in ICU and became gravely ill again. My wife noticed that my neck was red, and the redness was spreading lower down my left arm. They realised that the infection wasn’t under control and there was more puss leaking out the small cut in my throat from surgery the night before. I was monitored closely, and it was decided that I needed to go back into theatre.”
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. Stacey was in danger of the necrosis spreading to her heart area, which left her with an almost one hundred per cent mortality rate.
After numerous surgeries to halt the infection and to wash out the area affected, Stacey spent 16 days in ICU and required a blood transfusion as she lost so much blood from the many surgeries.
“Once in theatre, the doctors realised that the infection had spread so they removed more pus and bacteria, and it was discovered that the bacteria had become necrotising and was killing my tissue and muscle at a rapid rate. I was kept sedated and intubated as I needed more surgeries,” said Stacey.
“The second four-hour surgery included draining pus from the original abscess site as well as from where it had spread to and built up since the first surgery, under my collar bone and lower down into my chest.
“The surgery was done by two trauma plastic surgeons and two ENT surgeons. The reason it took so long was due to the number of critical nerves in the area that could for example prevent the ability to smile if damaged or removed.
“On Saturday April 6, 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.
“The movement of the pus into the heart cavity increased the mortality rate from 20 per cent to almost one hundred per cent. Antibiotics and surgery failed to prevent it moving in that direction, so it was very possible.
“Fortunately, it didn’t spread and I survived. 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. Finally, in the beginning of May it was decided I was healthy enough to have the skin graft and they took skin from my right thigh and placed it on my neck on May 7.
“I had to learn how to lift my head again as they removed my skin supporting muscles as well as part of my sternocleidomastoid muscle, which is what holds your head up. 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.
“It has taught me how strong I am, it has shown me how loved and cared for I am and it has shown me I have a voice.
“Don’t ignore your symptoms and listen to your body. I want to convey my gratitude and admiration for the NHS and all the medical staff who saved my life – what they do is remarkable. Without the NHS I would not be here.”
To see more, visit www.instagram.com/raymondstacey