- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

GYPSUM, Kan. (AP) - Morning walks are great for inhaling clean, crisp air, Roberta Jordan said, and rejoicing new life.

Those half-mile strolls four or more times a week through the streets of Gypsum with friend Linda Ganoung are among her daily highlights. Since coming home in late April after a long hospital stay, Jordan has graduated from a walker to a cane.

Living with her parents because she’s too weak to care for herself, the 38-year-old mom has plenty of time to reflect and rest while her body heals major wounds from necrotizing fasciitis, known as a flesh-eating disease, the Salina Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1s2kHdM ).

“It’s like a shark took a big chunk out of her left side,” said Ganoung, of Gypsum, a licensed practical nurse.

Crystal Allen, a nurse with Angel Arms Home Health Care, McPherson, drops by daily to clean and dress wounds, and change bandages.

Jordan opts to forge ahead and embrace being alive rather than lament her intense recovery, pain, mounting medical bills, and occasionally ponder how close she came to a tragic alternative.

“All crying does is give you puffy eyes and a headache,” she said. “We make jokes, laugh and keep moving. That’s about all you can do.”

For a while last spring, doctors were preparing Jordan’s family for her death. Necrotizing fasciitis is a “serious bacterial infection that spreads rapidly and destroys the body’s soft tissue,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Jordan read later that 73 percent of necrotizing faciitis patients die from it.

The experience upended her life in February.

“The doctors told us they were taking Roberta to Wichita, and by the time she got there, she probably would not be with us,” said Jordan’s sister, Racheal Weaver, of rural Gypsum.

“That was the longest hour trip I’ve made in my life. It was awful,” Weaver said.

One surgeon’s pain scale ranges from 10 for a paper cut down to one, which is very bleak.

“I spent the first four weeks between zero and one,” Jordan said. “I try not to dwell too much on that. I am very fortunate. I know it was all the prayers and good thoughts that pulled me through.”

The disease devoured her to the point that early on, nurses could pull back bandages, peer between her ribs and look at her lungs and the stomach wall.

“A couple nurses (at the Via Christi burn unit) said her wounds were as bad as some of the worst burns they’d ever seen,” Weaver said.

Jordan’s nightmare started innocently on Feb. 11. There was no pain from specific areas of her body, just a condition similar to the common flu.

“I just wasn’t feeling well, and as the day progressed I felt worse and worse,” she said. “I was really weak, kind of dizzy.”

On her way to the emergency room at Salina Regional Health Center, Jordan stopped at a convenience store so she could urinate.

“When I got in there, I couldn’t go,” Jordan said. By the time she was finished giving vital signs and filling out paperwork at the emergency department in Salina, Jordan was too weak to walk. Hospital staff wheeled her to an exam room and put her on a gurney.

Jordan stood up for another trip to a restroom. Her significant other, Joe Jackson, of Salina, then noticed blood on the gurney and on her back, and her skin was peeling.

“He said it was like skinning a fish,” Jordan said. “By this time, my kidneys had shut down. They weren’t entirely sure what was going on.” In the background, she heard doctors and nurses mention that she had developed sepsis, a serious step toward possible multiple organ failure that can lead to death, according to mayoclinic.org.

Doctors considered whether to perform exploratory surgery or try treating the problem with antibiotics. They opted for surgery.

The next day, her nephew Brant Weaver drove to Southeast of Saline and brought Jordan’s son, Eli, then 9, to the hospital, “so I could tell him ‘goodbye.’ I think he was stunned,” Jordan said.

She was put into a medically induced coma.

While in that state, doctors worked to debride, or clean and treat, her wounds. A second surgery was needed because the infection continued to grow, and Jordan was losing blood. She was given a blood transfusion and stabilized for a helicopter ride to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis in Wichita. During her time at the hospitals, Jordan was given six gallons of blood.

She remained in a coma for 50 days, waking up in late March, and spent a total 70 days in a hospital.

There were many serious challenges. When Jordan’s kidneys shut down, she was on dialysis around the clock. While in the coma, Jordan occasionally opened her eyes, causing dry corneal cracks that rendered her legally blind in her right eye.

When she awoke, Jordan had no idea where she was. She had worked 16 years in housekeeping at Salina Regional, and yet her surroundings weren’t familiar.

No one is sure how she became afflicted with the flesh-eating infection. “There are a bunch of big question marks. It was more of a combination of things,” Jordan said.

Among them was a compromised immune system from her thyroid gland being killed by radiation a few years back while being treated for Graves’ Disease. Jordan said the radiation contributed to a condition, rhabdomyolysis, which according to MedlinePlus, an online medical encyclopedia, “is the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood.” The condition caused kidney problems, as well, she said. It was “a perfect storm” of bad conditions, Ganoung said.

After spending two weeks in the rehab center, Jordan returned to Gypsum and now lives with her parents, Diane and Harry Jordan. “It’s been rough, but it’s getting a little easier,” Diane Jordan said. “I think she has a really good attitude, laughing instead of crying about things.”

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com

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