February 6, 2024

Flesh-Eating Bacteria Affects Many Aspects of Woman’s Life

by Billy Hansen, Public Relations Coordinator, Memorial Health System

Meet Sherri Cleary. Sherri had always been active enjoying activities such as swimming, spending time with her grandchildren, and enjoying big family events – including their annual big Fourth of July celebration. Those loves of life came to a standstill in 2023 after a Memorial Day weekend trip to Texas.

While on vacation in Texas that Memorial Day weekend, Sherri experienced a near drowning. She aspirated some ocean water that contained a flesh-eating bacteria. Sherri and her family came back home to Kansas and that’s when she began to feel bad. She kept getting worse within a week’s time, and eventually coughed up blood.

Sherri was taken to the Emergency Department at Memorial Hospital in Abilene, and was soon transferred by ambulance to Salina Regional Health Center. Doctors could not determine what was wrong with her, initially; she was quarantined. She had terrible hallucinations from sedation medications. One of her lungs was functioning at just 19 percent. Tests were ran and they “washed” her lungs. A lung wash consists of clearing one lung at a time using a saline solution to wash protein and other abnormal substances out of the air sacs of the lungs. A vest is usually wrapped around the patient’s chest to shake the body and agitate the lung. A suction device then removes any remaining liquids. This procedure can take up to four hours to complete. A sample from her lungs contained the flesh-eating bacteria. The medical team now knew what was making Sherri sick. “I did not know how sick I was, until I woke up on a ventilator,” said Sherri. After she woke up, she couldn’t do much at all. “I couldn’t sit up, roll over side to side, feed myself, or comb my hair,” Sherri continued.

After she returned home from Salina Regional Health Center in late July of 2023, she had a chronic cough, was tired all of the time, and needed a walker to help her walk. “I was very short of breath when doing anything. I was taking breathing treatments four times a day and had to have my rescue inhaler wherever I went…I was afraid to go anywhere without it,” Sherri said. Sherri soon began therapy.

She began with physical therapy, and started using Hydroworx aqua therapy, at the Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine department at Memorial Hospital, to help her walk again. Sherri worked with Jeff Sanborn, Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Director. “Sherri had a great attitude and worked hard in therapy to achieve her goals,” said Jeff. Sherri’s sentiments were the same, “Jeff was amazing to work with; he was SO encouraging and pushed me, I am so appreciative.”

Sherri also began going to the Pulmonary Rehabilitation department at Memorial Hospital in Abilene. She went to rehab three days a week for two hours per session. “We focused on breathing techniques and exercises to improve her lung function,” said Tori Smith, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Specialist at Memorial Hospital. “We used weights and cardio equipment to increase her endurance and strength, as well as improve her balance. Education about medications she was using, and nutrition were also part of the program. Since the sessions are one on one, Sherri had the opportunity to really talk about what happened and how it affected not only her, but her family as well,” Tori continued.

“I have quadrupled my amount of steps since using the exercise machines with Tori and I have lost 59 pounds since I left the hospital in late July,” said Sherri. “I feel like am doing better now than before I had the ‘accident.’ I feel better physically, I have more stamina, I can walk further, my balance is better, and I have better range of motion. I was an asthma suffer prior to the ‘accident,’ and I breathe better now than before since working with Tori; it’s been over two months since I did a breathing treatment. My quality of life has improved dramatically thanks to pulmonary rehab,” Sherri continued.

Sherri is still on antibiotics and continues going through therapy, but is reaching the end. “I’m going to be a little sad when therapy ends because it has helped me so much,” she said. Active again, Sherri is a Registered Nurse (RN) and currently teaches CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) classes for Salina Area Technical College. Sherri is looking forward to getting to enjoy her grandchildren’s activities this summer…and that big Fourth of July celebration.

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