LEANDER — A local woman lost her legs and fingers after being bitten by a family pet on Christmas which resulted in a rare bacteria infection.
Robin Sullins is currently in a medically-induced coma in the ICU of University Medical Center Brackenridge.
Below is the story as told by friends and family:
"It's Christmas Day. The turkey was consumed hours ago. Everyone sits around now telling stories, trading jokes, sipping on this or that, feeling, well, merry, just being together. This is a dog family, so they wander the house freely, household dogs mingling with visiting family dogs. They vie for attention, for affection, for turkey. In a rare display of aggression white dog growls at brown dog, and teeth begin to flash. Mom reaches down to break up the fight and in the process, is bitten. Mom's arm is wrapped and bandaged, the party breaks up, and everyone goes to sleep off the days festivities. It's been a good day. Over the next two days while everyone revels in the holiday spirit, mom feels progressively worse. She's vomiting and feverish. Her whole body hurts. She can't keep any food or liquid down. Dehydrated, she limps into the hospital emergency room December 27 searching for relief. But mom's feet begin to turn black. Her fingers, too, turn black. She is writhing in pain, her whole body reacting as if she's been burned beyond the third degree. Her kidneys, her lungs, begin to shut down. She cannot breathe. She is sedated, given oxygen and a whole array of drugs as doctors try to assess what is causing such bizarre symptoms. She's admitted to I.C.U. while doctors run test after test with no clinical explanation. Eventually, they suspect the presence of Capnocytophaga in her blood, a bacteria common in cats and dogs, but rare as an infection in human beings. Only 100 cases have been recorded in the past 40 years.
Mom is pumped full of penicillin, but the infection is so rare, treating it is like trying to hit a moving target, blindfolded. Her hands and feet turn to claws, utterly black; her body is mottled black and blue, her face looks beaten. She is dying in front of her children's eyes. She is sedated, given transfusions, put on dialysis to clean her blood. And finally she is put on life support so her lungs no longer have to struggle to breathe.
Oldest daughter sits by her side, holding her hand, day in, day out. She does not return to her job or to her third year of nursing school. She spends her birthday in the I.C.U., reaching for a miracle.
Youngest daughter is 8 months pregnant. And it was her dog, her best friend in the whole world, whose teeth passed the infection to Mom. She lies awake at night wondering if she'll lose her mother and her best friend in the same week.
Dad works long hours, day and night, and visits wearily after hours. Son works all day and keeps vigil at night with his two month old newborn baby. Middle daughter just wants to see her mother open her eyes again. "I can't wait to give you a big 'ole hug and tell you that you're the best mother in the whole world" she posts on facebook.
Days later, hopeful that the threat of death has passed, surgeons remove the life support and remove the catheter in her thigh to place it in her neck. They agree to give the family time--to postpone the surgery that will remove both hands and feet. The entire family prays and plays and chants for a miracle. Pink spots appear on skin where there was only black. There is a faint pulse in the left foot that has had no signs of life for ten days. There is hope, and everyone clings to it like oxygen. A week passes, and the decision is made to remove mom's legs at the knees. Her fingers will likely have to be removed as well, though the physician decides to give her body time to recover.
Mom was out of work when she landed in the hospital, so there is no insurance, and medicaid will only cover so much. There are surgeries to go, prosthesis to pay for, rehab. But there is also a very close-knit family living on the edge, mother and her children out of work, each pulling together to save a life held dear. Mom, who loves dogs as much as she loves breathing. Mom, who reached her hand down to break up a fight because she understands dogs, their nature, loves them with tails wagging or teeth snarling. Mom, who is always so independent, always wanting to take care of herself and see her children succeed, now needs all their energy and support just to live. And in pulling together, the love and commitment is high, but the finances are dwindling.
These are the facts as I know them. I am the sister in this story, and this is my family. And what I know about family--your family, my family-- is that we are creators. We are capable. We are walking, talking miracles. What our government family and its health care system wont provide, our families of blood and our families of choice, and our miracle-worldwide families, will.
Where there is hope, there is a way. And so I reach to you, my online family, my inner-circle family, even my stranger-family. If you read this and are touched, I ask for your blessings. And as your family, we send ours in return. With gratitude. With love."
To send Robin and her family a blessing, visit her page on Facebook:
To donate to her relief fund, click here.
Timeline of Events
Robin is currently in the ICU at University Medical Center Brackenridge, in Austin, Texas. The following report was supplied by her daughter Samantha, who has not left her side since being admitted to the hospital on December 27th.
Dec. 25 - Christmas day, bitten while breaking up a family dog squabble.
Dec. 26 - Went to bed feeling ill. Vomiting and fever through the night.
Dec. 27 - Admitted to Cedar Park Regional Medical Center ER in the afternoon. Placed on oxygen and admitted to ICU after lab work depicted kidney failure. Pain began in the feet, which was so bad she was climbing out of the bed. Mottling and coldness started in the lower feet and began working it’s way up the legs. Halfway through the night the hands began to hurt and turn cold. Antibiotics are initiated.
Dec. 28 - Increasing, intolerable pain. Decreasing blood pressure. Transfered to University Medical Center Brackenridge after 12 hours in ICU at Cedar Park. Additional antibiotics are administered upon arrival at Brackenridge.
Dec. 29- Pain increases drastically. Mottling has taken over all extremities. Doctors advise they don't know what's gong on or how to stop it. Fingers and feet turn black and begin to shrivel. Rheumatologist consultation arouses the suspicion of Capnocytophaga, an extremely dangerous bacteria found in the mouths of dogs and cats. Physician explains the bacteria is very slow growing and the only thing available to do is to research the best antibiotics that have been found to kill it.
Dec. 30- Dialysis and plasmapheresis are administered. Also started on new antibiotics that are more defined for the suspected bacteria infection. Pain continues to increase. Doctors describe this pain (ischemia) as the worst pain you could ever have. It’s as if you place your hand over open flames. O2 saturation levels start dropping, oxygen is pushed up from 10L to 15L without success. Blood pressure is dropping and she is quickly intubated to help combat her body crashing. Platelet levels are critically low, kidney functioning is almost nonexistent. Chest X-rays (CXR) show fluid building in the lungs.
Dec. 31- Intubated. Dialysis and plasmapheresis administered again. Fingers are mummified… black, hard, shriveled. Nose to lip is black. Shins to feet are black.
Jan. 1 - Intubated and not awake. Barely hanging on to life. Plasmapheresis is administered.
Jan. 2 - Little pink spots are detected in the nail beds of the fingers. No change other than that, still intubated. Dialysis and plasmapheresis.
Jan. 3 - Intubated. Plasmapheresis. CXR
Jan. 4 - Intubated. Dialysis. Plasmapheresis discontinued. CXR
Jan. 5 - Robin wakes. Dialysis. CXR
Jan. 6 - Still intubated, feeling a little better. Taking it easy today. Running low fevers. CXR. Her body starts to blister.
Jan. 7 - Ventilator removed. Feeding tube is still in. CXR. Blisters have started everywhere.
Jan. 8 - Swallowing study performed, and permission given to eat on her own. Surgery to put in a more permanent catheter for dialysis treatments. CXR
Jan. 9 - Robin rips out the feeding tube. CXR. Blisters now cover her body.
Jan. 10 - Robin is eating and drinking. No tubes. High fever begins that does not respond well to Tylenol.
Jan. 11 - High fever continue. Surgery scheduled to debride nose and cut open legs/feet to inspect for infection. No infection found in the legs or feet, but infection found in the nose. It is determined there is very little viable tissue in the legs, resulting in a directive for amputation. Surgery for amputation of legs from the knee down is decided to take place next week. Daily dressing changes begin today for these body parts that produce mass pain.
Jan. 12 - Another surgery has the ENT clearing Robin's sinuses. After two weeks of drainage the sinus walls are caked thickly, which makes the surgery take more than twice as long as expected. A breathing tube is inserted due to blood dripping down the throat during the procedure. Breathing tube removed after a few hours.
Jan. 14 - Robin's permission is required to remove both her legs at the knee. Surgery is scheduled for January 15th.
Jan. 15 - Robin's legs are amputated at the knee, as well as all her fingers.
Jan. 16 - Medical coma induced as the pain from surgery becomes intolerable.