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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A Knoxville woman feels lucky to be alive after surviving a rare strain of strep throat. The infection ended up leading to several of her fingers and toes having to be amputated. She spoke with WATE 6 On Your Side after seeing a similar story about a Michigan man.
Shelby Smith never thought a sore throat would bring her to the emergency room. What seemed to be a common case of strep throat turned out much worse.
“I started shaking and convulsing and my lips started turning blue and my eyes were rolling in the back of my head,” said Smith.
She called an ambulance. She said there was a pretty good chance she could have died.
“Little did I know, I was going into septic shock,” she said.
Her throat began closing up and her organs started failing. She was 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.
Then, she woke up to her hands and toes black and blue. She lost circulation in most of her fingers. She lost one index finger on her left hand, but most of the damage was on her right hand. She also lost two toes on her left foot.
“These cases are rare, few hundred cases a year in the US.” said Dr. Jeffry King, one of Smith’s doctors.
Dr. King said this rare form of strep is not contagious. Very few people can get it through their respiratory system or sometimes through their skin. Dr. King said Smith had a very aggressive form of the strep throat bacteria. He said this is one of the most life threatening bacterial infections and it is incredibly hard to detect.
“We just didn’t know what was going on and what she was being attacked by,” said Caleb Weinzierl, Smith’s fiancé.
In the end, the medicine redirected blood flow to her organs, killing circulation in her hands and toes. Weinzierl and Smith said it was a month they both will never forget. However, after seeing a similar story from Michigan about a man now needing a quadruple amputation, Smith said she’s lucky.
“Either buckle under the pressure or I can pick myself up and make a new normal,” said Smith.
Smith said she does not have insurance and medical bills are starting to pile up. The family has set up a GoFundMe page for Smith.