Rachelle Winn fell during a floating trip and contracted a flesh-eating bacteria. | Courtesy: Rachelle Winn
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains extremely graphic photos. Reader discretion is advised.
IDAHO FALLS – A local woman is lucky to still have her leg after a scary fall in the water turned into a dangerous infection.
Rachelle Winn from Idaho Falls had just finished a float trip down Big Springs in Island Park when a minor accident led to a limb-threatening infection.
“We were getting out of the water, and you have to have people bring you back and forth to get your vehicles at the end. My friend had gone to get her truck so we could load up the kayaks, and I had her two dogs,” Winn tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I was kind of at an incline, and one of the dogs saw a stray dog and just went for him. It flipped me around, and I went down into the water and hit my knee on a rock. I had a pretty good gash – like 3 inches long and an inch and a half deep.”
The cut on Rachelle Winn’s knee shortly after she fell. | Courtesy: Rachelle Winn
Winn’s friends called 911, and she was taken by ambulance to Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg, where the injury was cleaned and stitched closed.
But over the next few days, Winn says her cut became progressively worse, and the skin around the gash turned dark. She figured a scab was forming over pooled blood.
“I was laying in bed at home, and it was just hurting and not getting better. It just sort of progressively started getting bigger. Finally, after a week, I went to EIRMC, and they were like, ‘That’s really bad. Your flesh is dead on your knee,’” says Winn. “So they took me right into surgery and cut it all out. It looks like I had a big shark bite on my knee.”
Dr. Tait Olaveson, Winn’s surgeon, is the burn director at EIRMC and a trauma surgeon. He says Rachelle was dealing with necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease.
“Over about a week timeframe, she basically developed a superinfection. It’s an infection that, lots of times, is associated with water and those types of substances,” Olaveson says. “It was kind of like a flesh-eating bacteria that required the removal of a large portion of the skin and fat – probably about 25% of her leg interior, just in front of her knee.”
During the surgery, Olaveson says, they removed the dead and infected tissue until they found healthy tissue underneath.
Rachelle Winn’s leg after surgeons had cut out the dead tissue. | Courtesy: Rachelle Winn
“In that group of flesh-eating bacteria…it just kind of continues to snowball,” says Olaveson. “Instead of being a real localized, small infection, it just spreads. It spreads pretty fast. It’s actually a surgical emergency.”
A few days later, Winn underwent a second surgery to partially reconstruct the inside of her leg with parts from various animals, like cows or pigs.
“Sometimes we use porcine, which means pig derivatives, and we also use bovine (cow) derivates that have been manufactured and made to help in healing,” says Olaveson. “Basically, I tell patients it’s like a scaffolding that aids their tissue to heal appropriately to get the best outcome. You’re trying to rebuild and get back to the most normal – the way God made us.”
Racelle Winn’s leg after the first surgery. | Courtesy: Rachelle Winn
After nearly two weeks in the hospital, Winn was released on Friday. She is now waiting for her leg to continue healing and may need a few more surgeries to place skin grafts on top of the exposed tissue.
“This isn’t just a simple laceration where you have to go down to the ER, get repaired and then you’re done,” Olaveson says. “It’s a multi-stage process and it really varies. Patients can be in the hospital for three to four months, but with (Winn) we were able to be aggressive, and she did well.”
The experience has been traumatic for Winn and she hopes to spread the word about being proactive with injuries, especially in a situation where infection could occur.
“I picture a little kid or an elderly person having the same thing happen and how traumatic that would be for them. People need to know a little better because while I’ve been here, they say this happens quite a bit,” says Winn. “So it’s somewhat common, but I don’t know if we all know what to watch for or how to prevent it from happening to someone else.”
Olaveson says if you ever find yourself in a position where you think you might have an infection, there are a few key things to watch out for.
“If it’s progressing, including redness and fever, (and) it will smell like rotten tissue lots of times,” says Olaveson. “If you’re having fever or night sweats, those systemic signs, that’s when you need to reach out. If your fever is 101 degrees, if you’re having new night sweats that are abnormal, if you’re having significant redness or pain, then it needs to be seen and evaluated by a physician.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help cover Winn’s medical costs and services. Donations can be made here.
“I do want to point out how absolutely amazing the EIRMC staff has been,” says Winn. “They have made all of this as painless as possible. These nurses and doctors are simply phenomenal.”
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