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Exclusive- Actress Alicia Cole Speaks Out About Surviving Flesh-Eating Bacteria

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 3:19 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care, Antibiotics, Hospitals, Wrongful Death, Nosocomial and Postoperative Infections, MRSA Infections

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Her resume says she is unavailable for work at this time because she is fighting Necrotizing fasciitis(NF) also known as man-eating flesh disease.

Alicia Cole 45, is now on the slow road to recovery although not entirely out of the woods yet. Her days are spent changing the gauze on her yet unhealed gaping wounds in her abdomen and with what little energy she has left Cole is trying to make sure no one has to suffer as she has.

The Sherman Oaks, California resident and actress has become the poster child for hospital-acquired infections, which kill around 100,000 Americans each year.

Actress Alicia Cole Speaks out about surviving flesh eating bacterial infection from hospital and she becomes patient advocate.

Alicia Cole Hospitalized

“This is one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know how she survived it,” RN Chris Cahill tells IB News. The public health nurse worked in infection control for 30 years for the state Department of Health Services and has become familiar with Cole’s case.

Federal estimates are 6 to 10% of hospital patients will contract some form of infection. About one-third of patients die unless the disease spreads to internal organs, as it did with Cole. Then fatality rates rise to about 70 percent.

NF is, like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a form of hospital acquired infection that is difficult to contain with antibiotics. NF can be caused by Staph or more commonly the group A Streptococcal (GAS) bacterium, which also causes strep throat. It is a particularly aggressive bacterial infection that can rapidly spread through the blood destroyingskin, fat and tissues and eventually can shut down the organs.

Alicia Cole, Actor speaks out about hospital acquired flesh eating bacteria

Alicia in better times

The first symptom of a hospital acquired infection is a high and sudden fever within 48 hours of admittance to a hospital for another condition. No one knows why in some cases these aggressive infections can affect an otherwise healthy patient, as was Cole.

Lying in the Intensive Care Unit after five surgeries Cole tells IB News, she made a promise. “Lord just let me live and I’ll make sure no one goes through this” she says.

And she’s making good on her promise.

She has established the website www.Amendthecap.com to create awareness about California’s medical malpractice cap of $250,000 for pain, suffering and emotional distress, even if your injury is caused by the hospital.

Cole is telling her story to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation is part of an online community of thousands.

As a consumer advocate, Cole has created a compelling and articulate

where she stands outside of the Los Angeles County Health Department just before testifying before a state advisory committee urging hospitals to make public their rates of infection and failures of surgical procedures. Restaurants get a letter grading, why can’t hospitals she says.

California does not require hospitals disclose that information. In fact last October, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a legislative proposal that would have required hospitals to make their failures in infection control and surgical errors public.

Cole’s story begins on August 15, 2006 when she went into Providence Saint Joseph Hospital in Burbank, California for removal of two uterine fibroids, a routine procedure usually involving a two day hospital stay. The hospital which has received many awards for excellence from Healthgrades, a hospital rating company would not discuss Cole’s case citing patient confidentiality.

After contracting NF, she spent four weeks in Intensive Care and had to undergo five additional surgeries to cut the bacterial infection from her abdomen, left butt cheek and top of her left thigh. At one point doctors thought they would have to amputate her left leg.

She credits her parents Ron and Betty Cole with saving her life and her sister who helped renew her faith when she didn’t think she would survive. Cole tells her story to IB News.

IB News- I have to ask you first with all the talk against medical malpractice caps if you are funded by any special interest group that is fighting tort reform?

Alicia Cole - “My mother has a special interest in this, brothers, sisters and friends who are feeding me, doing my laundry, taking care of me, they have a vested special interest. Trust me I don’t need anybody’s special interest money. I had an appointment today. I go to CVS and pick up special dressing and hope these holes will close finally. I’m still looking like Swiss cheese. I can’t walk and do too much because of the area of my wound. If I move, sit, anything, it opens up and tears.  My activities are limited so I try to be as still as possible.

IB- How is your healing progressing?

AC - “Well they let me go home. It just got to the point where my fever eventually started stabilizing. That’s how we knew I was getting better. My doctors, even until a couple of months ago they’d say to me you’re not in the clear yet, but you’re in the high grass. Even when I came home because of the size of the wound there is always the chance of a secondary infection. I’ve been the most careful patient in America.

IB- Are you in pain?

AC - “Pain? Oh honey, you don’t know pain. It was excruciating to the point that finally you numb out. That’s when they put you in a drug induced coma. My parents were concerned.  At one point, they said you have to do something -- she keeps hitting morphine in her sleep. But the nurse said it locks you out every five minute period. To imagine what I must have looked like in my sleep pushing on a pain button, there was no time that the pain buddy was not in my hand.

IB - How was your infection first identified?

AC - “My mother is the one who spotted the disease. I was swelling with [a] 103 degree temperature and my abdomen was getting redder and hotter and harder until it was like a brick. My mother was making sure.  Every time they took gauze off me she checked. The third day after my surgery, the nurse came in in the afternoon and raises up the gauze and is about to put it back down and my mother says, “What’s that black dot?” The nurse says, "I don’t see it." Then she says, "It’s probably a mole." My mother says, "She doesn’t have any and that wasn’t there this morning."

The nurse said, "It’s probably lint." My mother says, "Where would lint come from under the gauze?" She looked at the nurse and said, “Oh no, it’s not on her skin it’s IN her skin and was not there a few hours ago.” The nurse gave my mom a hard time, "It’s no big deal," "Don’t make anything out of this." And, "Wait until tomorrow when the doctor comes in."

My mother said, "Fine, I’ll call him and ask him to come back here." Finally the nurse says, “Fine, I’ll call him so he can tell you its nothing.” It took the doctor an hour and a half to get to hospital and when he took a look at me it was a quarter size pustule. He scrambled and got gauze and called for the scalpel. While we waited he looked at my mother said “Are you squeamish?” She said no and the doctor said “I need your help. We have to do this now!”

He had her put on a mask and gloves and the doctor and my mother cut me open. I was wide awake the whole time he cut an incision in my back open. He extended my incision two inches on each side and he told my mother “Mirror what I do.” Pain? I remember squeezing my eyes real hard thinking surely this is a dream. If I squeeze my eyes I’ll wake up. At that point my mother’s hands are in my stomach.

I looked at my doctor on the left and my mother on the right side with her hands in me with gauze sopping up drainage and pus. The doctor said, “Alicia I know this hurts but you are about to be in excruciating pain. I need to put in sutures like a baseball. Squeeze your moms hand as hard as you need to. This is going to be really painful.”He commenced to cutting open my sutures. Everything he cut it was like shoe strings in the cavity of me. He was opening me to get as deep as possible to get the pus and drainage and fluid out of me.

The nature of the disease is that it keeps eating until you remove it. At that point they hadn’t even figured out what it was and hadn’t done anything about it. It was still eating me alive. Over the next week I just started having rotted flesh and dead skin and pustules over my abdomen. I had I think 2 or 3 IV towers that were each full of antibiotics. They would mark my stomach with a black marker every day, circle the area that’s red then they would cut this away a little extra and try and head it off. Then they would cut that away and draw a new line. You would see it grow to that line and beyond. My mother would say “No, it’s still eating.” Then next day big pustules and dead tissues would be on the outside of the black line and they’d cut to a new black line.

IB – What finally stopped it?

AC - "God between the antibiotics. They don’t know if my NF is caused from MRSA or some other organism, but whatever it was it was resistant to everything. My parents had to sign a waiver at one point because one antibiotic had just been approved by the FDA and they had no idea what the side effects would be. I had more than one doctor say “You are a guinea pig.” I also had sepsis. We were playing beat the clock.

One of the nurses told me I was the third patient they had cared for. Both had NF on a limb and they didn’t make it. That nurse would come to see me because she just wanted to see me, to see that I lived.

Now I don’t take one day for granted. When you’re in a room for two months, I had my first patio pass and we went outside. My mom and dad had the IV pole and they sat at my wheelchair in the sun and I felt on my face the breeze on my skin. It was such a sensation. You will never fully understand breeze until you haven’t had one. Just something simple like breeze on your skin is amazing. Even now I love to feel the wind blowing on me. It makes me appreciative of everything. #

(Part Two- Alicia Cole Patient Advocate)


25 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Mary Hammond
Thursday, December 13, 2007 8:39 AM EST

Alicia, my prayers are with you. I am believing with you, and we know that our God can do more than we can possibly ask or think. I admire you for what you are trying to do to make others aware.

My son, Timothy Hammond says that he attended high school with you. I think it was at Admiral King in Lorain, Ohio.

Keep trusting and keep the faith.

Blessings on you and your family,
Mary Hammond

Posted by Melissa Tan
Thursday, December 13, 2007 10:44 AM EST

Dear Alicia!!!
THANK GOD for you. After everything you've experienced, I am amazed at how you continue to hold onto your positive attitude; I know that will bring you through this! AND MOST OF ALL: you are inspiring... instead of acting the victim, you are acting the HERO by standing up for all of our rights. THANK YOU for being our advocate!

Best
Melissa Tan

Anonymous User
Posted by Susan McNabb
Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:12 AM EST

I worked with Alicia for years before this happened. She was like a ray of sunshine on the set of every job, and such a beautiful woman, both inside and out. It is appalling that her life has had to change so drastically because of someone else's mistake. I am so proud of her strength at surviving this, and now working as an activist to make positive changes in the system that has failed her.

Anonymous User
Posted by Keisha Merritt
Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:13 AM EST

Alicia,

I cry everytime I read your story. This is truly amazing and I know that God must have an dynamic plan for your life, considering the obstacles. Continue to trust God. We are prayerful for your full recovery.

Be Blessed,

The Merritts
Keisha, Andre, Sr. and Andre Jr.

Posted by Joseph Parazoo
Thursday, December 13, 2007 11:26 AM EST

Thank you - for speaking up and trying to get the word out.

My wife contracted necrotizing fasciitis and survived. I wrote a book about it. - A Brush with Death: it could happen to you - Available at Amazon and many other book stores - for more information go to LINK

Thanks,
Joe

Anonymous User
Posted by Anne Morris
Thursday, December 13, 2007 12:10 PM EST

Alicia, you continue to amaze me. No matter how hard life gets, your spirit perseveres. We are all very proud of you.

Anonymous User
Posted by Sheila Miller
Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:46 PM EST

Alicia,

You are a living miracle! I remember visiting you in the hospital and seeing the gaping wound in your body. God truly spared your life and now you are helping others. You are an inspiration to us all and I pray God's strength upon you as you continue to heal and fight for patient rights. I am proud to be your friend.

Love,

Sheila

Anonymous User
Posted by Rudy Quintanilla
Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:13 PM EST

Alicia, Even before this you inspired me and many others, and now to be fighting for this even though you're not fully recovered makes you a Saint in my eyes and I'm sure also to the people who have died and for those who are still suffering from these types of infections. Thank you for bringing all these facts and information to our attention thru your web sites. Your work is not only appreciated I'm sure it will also help save lives. God Bless you. Rudy Q.

Posted by Brian Collins
Thursday, December 13, 2007 3:05 PM EST

Dear Alicia,

What courage you have shown, and what care for others who might be at risk in the future from this insidious infection. To be as sick as you've been, and to fight the (neglectful) powers that be at the same time is incredible. My prayers are with you and your family...may this trial end soon and may you return to perfect health.

Hugs,

Brian

Anonymous User
Posted by Joan Messinger
Thursday, December 13, 2007 3:56 PM EST

Alicia - Kim and I think of you every single day. I remember telling you before you went in for surgery that fibroid surgery was so routine! Of course, I never imagined what would happen next! Your courage and your spirit and your determination (as well as that of your family) is impressive and truly inspirational. We miss being able to send you on commercial auditions and look forward to the day that we can do so again. In the meantime, we pray for you and praise you and all those around you.
With Love and Admiration, Joan and Kim at Pinnacle

Anonymous User
Posted by trish
Thursday, December 13, 2007 6:10 PM EST

hi sister red, that's what i no you as. my name is trish and i'm bo and tonya rankins daughter. when i heard about your condition i immediatley got on my knees and prayed for you. i'm happy to hear that your getting better. stay strong and keep fighting and i'm going to keep praying that you get better and better. love trish

Anonymous User
Posted by Linda O'Connor
Thursday, December 13, 2007 7:02 PM EST

Hi Lisa,

I've been thinking about you lately, as the holidays always bring dear friends to mind. I have been praying for your recovery since I first learned of your illness. You have always been one to fight for what you believe in, and I see that this illness has driven you to embark on the fight of your life. Keep up the hard work, and keep on fighting! I know you have an incredible faith and amazing family and will persevere. Just an aside- do you realize we've known each other 35 years!!? And we'll still be in touch when we're spunky old women at 90!!

Love,
Linda

Anonymous User
Posted by Bridgette Chambliss
Friday, December 14, 2007 2:32 AM EST

Oh my goodness, Alicia. It's Bridgette...from our days on commercials. Leslie Hedge just forwarded me this article and I am awestruck... dumbfounded. I don't know what to say...I'm not sure what to do... All I can think to do, though, is reach out to you and send big love your way.

I agree with these other comments, Alicia. Through it all, your voice still sounds like a positive one. Your outlook bright. Your heart in the right place. Incredible, my friend. Only you.

I'm so sorry that you've had to endure this. Stay strong, honey; if anyone can beat this, it's you.

Love,
Bridgette

Anonymous User
Posted by Julia Allen
Friday, December 14, 2007 3:01 PM EST

Hi Alicia,
I just read the article and couldn't even finish it, it brings to light all too vividly the pain and suffering; the tears cloud my remaining vision. I just don't understand how this wasn't addressed by the courts. I wish that those so concerned with the costs of medical malpractice would fight the battle by fighting those better able to defend themselves, ie, the doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. I don't know why they place the burden on the weakest party, the victims of malpractice (or rather, I guess I do know why, it's always easier to attack those without means).

I admire your courage and tenacity; I am amazed and humbled by your ability to pursue your goals especially when faced by so many hurdles. I wish I had your courage.

Brava,
Julia

Anonymous User
Posted by Tonya Rankins
Friday, December 14, 2007 8:55 PM EST

Hi Sister Red,

We are so very proud of your courage, you have been a blessing to so many of us, our best wishes are with you now and always.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!!!!

Love
Bo & Tonya Rankins

Anonymous User
Posted by Kerry Schrader
Saturday, December 15, 2007 6:06 PM EST

Lisa,

I hope that everybody who reads this sends it to at least 100 people so that this can get attention and maybe, just maybe, the right folks will be compelled to act!!! You are an inspiration to all those that are lucky enough to be part of your life. I am praying that 2008 is your year to be restored as "whole" and that our "Heavenly Father" continues to direct your steps!

Look out world, Lisa is on the verge of something BIG! XXXOOO,

Kerry

Anonymous User
Posted by Jordan Roberts
Saturday, December 15, 2007 7:42 PM EST

It is really amazing how inactive we can be to fight for what is right, until it happens in our own backyard. This is devastating, what has happened to Alicia, and the hundreds of thousands of other people. I really want to do whatever I can to help change the 250,000 medical malpractice cap; and to help ammend the health codes of all hospitals; and make them disclose important information necessary in a patient making a decision to trust that hospital with his or her life. I plan to be active in these causes. I have known Alicia for five years and she has the most beautiful spirit. Doing something now to help will make a difference in many, many lives. Jordan Roberts

Anonymous User
Posted by a potential victim
Sunday, December 16, 2007 11:46 AM EST

Alicia-
Remembering the story of Joseph and what God did with him, what a blessing he became for his people. You too are truly a blessing to us your friends, your family and the community in which you reside. Your community is without excuse to rise up and demand action when a survivor like you is leading the charge. You are demonstrating to us all how we need to "ACT NOW" for changes or suffer consequences without resolve. So easily could any of us become victims to preventative infections if accountability isn't mandated. My prayers are for you to continue healing and to "INFECT" us all with URGENCY to "ACT NOW" to prevent Hospital Infections and Demand Reporting mandatory by State legislation and to "Amend the Cap". Supporting you with love in action - your's truly.

Anonymous User
Posted by Edwina Grayer
Monday, December 17, 2007 4:03 AM EST

Alicia,
I pray for you, Chuck & China send their prayer & love. Keep the faith, its sad that such things happen to great people. Trust God to continue to bring you out of this siutation.
The Grayers

Anonymous User
Posted by Brenda Evans
Monday, December 17, 2007 1:43 PM EST

I thank God for your total healing!!!! In addition to your total peace. Continue to trust him. For God is true, and faithful to his word. You are on a journey that will help millions. New Mercies, and from Glory to Glories!!! Be strong my sister. God is always on time.

Much Love,

Brenda Evans

Anonymous User
Posted by Tony Noakes
Monday, December 17, 2007 8:44 PM EST

Alicia,

I think and pray for you everyday. Your experience has caused me to be even more angry at our government and the insurance companies that have, more than any other entities, perpetuated the hell you have had to endure. I am so sorry. Please, know that I will always be a "squeaky wheel" for victims such as you.

If ever there was an example to verify the need for revolution and transformation of our medical system, you are it girl.

Speak loudly and carry a big stick AND know you have people who love you to back you up.

Love,
Tony Noakes

Anonymous User
Posted by Sharon Knight
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:02 PM EST

God Bless you for speaking out on one of the most disgustingly horrific diseases out there. My husband contracted this back in January 2007 and has also been on this slow road thru hell.

My prayers are with you.

Anonymous User
Posted by ZEWODITU
Wednesday, December 19, 2007 2:55 PM EST

Alicia:
I don't know you, however, May God's mercy, peace and love be multiplied unto you. And thank you for sharing your story.
God Speed!

Anonymous User
Posted by hrold
Thursday, December 20, 2007 12:02 AM EST

This sickness is not into death, God keep you for a specal reason. (A CHILD OF GOD YOU ARE)

Anonymous User
Posted by Ann Harries
Saturday, January 05, 2008 2:32 PM EST

After contracting this myself in july 2007 following childbirth.I fully understand what you are going through and hope things go well for you in the future,with all of your endeavours god bless

Comments for this article are closed.

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