KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A Tennessee woman said she feels lucky to be alive after surviving a rare strain of strep throat. The infection ended up leading to the amputation of several of her fingers and toes.
“There was a pretty big chance I could have died,” Shelby Smith said.
What seemed to be a common case of strep throat turned into much worse.
“I started shaking and convulsing and my lips started turning blue and my eyes were rolling in the back of my head,” Smith said.
She called an ambulance.
“Little did I know, I was going into septic shock,” Smith said.
Her throat began closing up — her organs failing. She was placed in a medically induced coma for a week.
“Still, in my mind, I didn’t think I was as sick as I really was,” Smith said.
When she woke up…
“It looked like something out of a horror movie,” Smith said.
She lost circulation in most of her fingers. The index finger on her left hand had to be amputated, but most of the damage impacted her right hand, and a toe on her left foot.
“These cases are rare. Few hundred cases a year in the US,” Dr. Jeffry King said.
Dr. King said Smith had a very aggressive form of the strep throat bacteria.
“I’d say this is one of the most life-threatening illnesses that we see as far as a bacterial infection,” Dr. King said.
It was an infection doctors say is incredibly hard to detect.
“We just didn’t know what was going on and what she was being attacked by,” Caleb Weinzierl, Smith’s fiance said.
Weinzierl said that was the worst part.
In the end, it was the medicine that was redirecting blood flow to her organs that killed the circulation in her hands and toes.
“I’ll never forget that whole month,” Smith and Weinzierl said.
After seeing a similar story from a man in Michigan, who needed a quadruple amputation after a battle with strep, Smith said she feels lucky.
“Either buckle under the pressure or I can pick myself up and make a new normal,” Smith said.