California woman, 23, almost has foot amputated after tiny cut on toe turned into flesh-rotting disease

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Californian Sela Serafin, now 23, suffered a small cut on her toe after running
  • Her toe started to became increasingly red, swelled up, and then turned black
  • READ MORE: CDC issues warning against nasal rinsing with tap water

A tiny cut from running on this young woman’s toe almost cost her her foot after it turned into a deadly flesh-eating disease.

Californian Sela Serafin, now 23, had always been a keen runner and noticed a small wound on her third toe on her right foot in January last year. 

She assumed the pain was wear and tear from running ten miles each day, but her toe started to became increasingly red and started swelling. 

When her foot turned black, she started to panic.

She was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare and life-threatening infection, that is also known as a flesh-eating disease, which causes black spots on the skin, swollen limbs, nausea and diarrhea.

It was believed to have been caused when bacteria got into the cut on her foot.

Ms Serafin recovering from her ordeal in the hospital

Ms Serafin with her mother after she recovered. She was able to start running again in September last year, and is now training for a marathon

Ms Serafin with her mother after she recovered. She was able to start running again in September last year, and is now training for a marathon

Prior to this, she had only been applying a mild antiseptic every day or two and admitted she did not take care to keep it dry or use antibacterial ointment. 

Living in a shared house near Venice Beach, she said that the environment was not the cleanest either. 

She was also juggling school, work, commuting, and other activities, so neglected to give her foot the attention it needed. 

Ms Serafin started experiencing more symptoms in February, such as feeling extremely tired and fatigued, anxiety, constantly cold, and dizziness, but as she was completing final exams at university, she put the symptoms down to stress.

Her whole foot became painful, making it increasingly difficult to move around.

The day after the Super Bowl in February, Ms Serafin woke up to find her foot bright red and almost twice its normal size.

It was impossible to put weight on so she decided to go to the hospital.

Over the following day, while she was at home in between hospital visits, parts of her foot started to turn yellowish-brown, rapidly changing minute by minute. 

She recalled that she’d glance away for half an hour and notice more spots appearing, some even turning black. 

Ms Serafin said: ‘I experienced more sepsis symptoms as the weeks went on but put it down to stress. My foot then started turning black and I knew something must be seriously not right.’

By this stage, she could barely speak or keep my eyes open and realized that something was severely wrong and immediately returned to the hospital. 

At that same moment, Ms Serafin received a call from the hospital, informing her that her blood test results were back and urging her to return as soon as possible. 

She doesn’t remember much between that moment and waking up in the ICU – aside from harnessing her last bit of energy to call the Uber, while she was barely conscious. 

Ms Serafin using a wheelchair after recovering from necrosis. She weighed just 65lbs after she got out of the hospital

Ms Serafin using a wheelchair after recovering from necrosis. She weighed just 65lbs after she got out of the hospital

Ms Serafin's feet after her surgeries

Ms Serafin’s feet after her surgeries

Ms Serafin now healthy again. She started a side business called The Cakedom, where she experiments with herbal remedies in functional cakes

Ms Serafin now healthy again. She started a side business called The Cakedom, where she experiments with herbal remedies in functional cakes

In the ICU, she was diagnosed with sepsis and put on intense antibiotics through an IV in an attempt to slow down the condition.

After being checked over, Ms Serafin was told that she should be in a coma because her blood sugar levels were so low. 

She was then seen by a podiatrist who explained that she had necrotizing fasciitis – a rare and life-threatening infection, that is also known as a flesh-eating disease. 

It can happen when bacteria enters the body through breaks in the skin such as cuts. 

NECROTISING FASCIITIS: THE VICIOUS FLESH-EATING BACTERIA

Necrotising fasciitis, more commonly known as ‘flesh-eating disease’, is a rare but extremely vicious bacterial infection. ‘Necrotising’ refers to something that causes body tissue to die, and the infection can destroy skin, muscles and fat.

The disease develops when the bacteria enters the body, often through a minor cut or scrape. As the bacteria multiply, they release toxins that kill tissue and cut off blood flow to the area.

Because it is so virulent, the bacteria spreads rapidly throughout the body.

Symptoms include small, red lumps or bumps on the skin, rapidly-spreading bruising, sweating, chills, fever and nausea. Organ failure and shock are also common complications.

Sufferers must be treated immediately to prevent death, and are usually given powerful antibiotics and surgery to remove dead tissue. Amputation can become necessary if the disease spreads through an arm or leg.

Patients may undergo skin grafts after the infection has cleared up, to help the healing process or for aesthetic reasons.

There are 500 to 1,500 cases reported a year, but 20 to 25 percent of victims die.

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There are many types of bacteria that can cause the flesh-eating disease, but group A Streptococcus are the most common.

The bacteria destroys muscle and fat tissue and feeds off cells which is why it begins eating your flesh.

Every year, between 700 and 1,150 cases of necrotizing fasciitis are diagnosed in the US, with up to one in five resulting in death.

Amputation rates are around 22 percent. 

The next morning, the podiatrist told her she needed emergency surgery as the necrotizing fasciitis was still rapidly progressing. 

Over the next few weeks, she had three surgeries to save her foot and remove the infected tissue. 

Doctors had to dig deep into her flesh and remove a chunk of her foot that was as deep as her tendons because the disease was eating away at her skin.

Luckily, the surgeries were successful and she didn’t need an amputation, but she spent the next three weeks in hospital before she was discharged. 

Ms Serafin said: ‘Looking back, it’s so obvious I was suffering symptoms of sepsis. I was freezing, even though I live in LA and it’s never cold, I was spaced out, dizzy, tripping over things and had bruises all over my body. 

‘I couldn’t even send a full text message without falling asleep. Every time I sat down would fall asleep in a matter of minutes. However, I didn’t make the connection between my foot and the other symptoms I was suffering.’ 

‘I feel so lucky to still have my foot and to even be alive,’ she said.

In April 2023, she went back to LA to finish school and complete her recovery, including physiotherapy to help build her strength back up. 

However, she weighed just 65lbs after she got out of the hospital. 

‘I was gaunt and had no muscle left as I hadn’t been able to get out of bed. I had no strength to even be able to sit up.

‘I even lost 70 percent of my hair due to the sepsis. It was horrendous. I was so active before, and it completely turned my life upside down,’ she said.

‘Life following sepsis left me feeling lost and isolated. I didn’t know that post-sepsis syndrome is incredibly common and can last over a year. 

‘It took me over a year to heal my gut so that I could digest food properly, overcome severe fatigue that often made it almost impossible to get out of bed, deal with edema in the lower half of my body, hair loss, brain fog, weakness, and depression. 

‘During this period, I felt incredibly alone because while doctors assured me that I was doing well since the infection was gone and my wound was healing better than expected, I still felt extremely unwell and worried that it would never end,’ she added.

In order to heal, Ms Serafin turned to meditation, yoga, baking, connecting with friends, learning about holistic nutrition and herbal medicine, and spending time in nature – a stark contrast to her previously busy lifestyle. 

She was able to start running again in September last year, and is now training for a marathon.

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