Sandi Sampson of Boaz, Alabama
When I had ankle replacement surgery in December 2003, I looked forward to finally recovering from a broken ankle bone I injured in my backyard. Unfortunately, I left the hospital not only with a new ankle, but also a staph infection from my surgery. In the weeks following the operation, I felt tired and always seemed to run a low grade fever, but I didn’t think much of it. I was diagnosed with the infection after my cast was removed three months after my surgery, and it became clear during physical therapy that the ankle replacement had failed. Tests revealed that I had Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a difficult to treat infection.
As a result, the prosthesis was removed and an antibiotic spacer was installed in its place. I underwent 12 weeks of vancomycin treatments administered through a PIC line at home. The infection seemed to improve and I had another ankle replacement surgery done. But the prosthesis never bonded to the bone and I experienced another outbreak of MRSA. I was put on vancomycin for another month to treat the infection. In June 2005, I had another surgery to install a concrete spacer in place of my ankle, but again it failed to adhere to my bone.
My doctor has told me that the MRSA, which is in my bone and blood, will never go away. It becomes dormant after it is treated, but trauma to my body — like a spider bite I got in November 2005 — can cause it to re-emerge. I underwent another surgery in May 2006 to address my ankle problem. I fought to save my life and leg for four years: 37 surgeries. Finally, the only way to save my life was remove my leg. I had that done in February 2007. I not only lost my leg, but I was still left with $78,000 in co-pays (even with my BCBS insurance), and I had to refinance my home to pay the bills. Since my amputation, I have had two cases of staff related pneumonia. Also, I thought (just as so many others) that you get one artificial leg and you are set. No: I have had three since my leg was removed, and even with BCBS my part is $2,500. Also, my doctor wanted me to have a movable foot on my artificial leg: it has a computer chip in it, and once you walk it remembers how you walk and makes the stress less on the other leg. No go; BCBS will not pay for this foot. I now have problems with my other leg.
We desperately need to make our hospitals publish their instances of staph. We make food and restaurants publish their score: why not hospitals? Do not get me wrong, I walk now with my artificial leg and work every day; but why should I suffer at this time in my life, at 58, with all the bills (not to mention the cost of an artificial leg)? Why aren’t our hospitals held responsible?