Student nearly died from flesh-eating infection by not cleaning insulin pump

Warning: Graphic images

A woman who did not clean her insulin pump as advised contracted a fungus that put her in a coma for a month and even killed her temporarily.

Carolina Bowen, 20, from South Carolina, has type one diabetes and did not wipe her insulin pump with an alcohol swab. She was taken to hospital with Rhizopus oryzae infection – a deadly fungus typically found in dirt and decaying matter.

She spent September last year in a medically induced coma, endured five surgeries and even died during one of them. 

She has lost most function in her arm and her muscles to atrophy after her nerves in her armpit and shoulder down to her elbow were cut out. 

Carolina said: ‘Doctors told me I’m the only living survivor of this fungal infection in the US that did not have to have an amputation.

‘I had an amazing team of doctors and surgeons who pulled together and saved my life because it was a race against the clock.’

The College of Charleston Sociology major insists the infection was her fault, for not cleaning her pump properly, as opposed to an issue with the pump.

When she was admitted to hospital she was suffering from septic shock, organ failure and flesh-eating Necrotizing fasciitis (NF) that was developing in her left arm.

‘Doctors really didn’t think I was going to pull through because they hadn’t seen this before,’ she said.

She did in fact die during one of her five surgeries and said she ‘very much’ remembers it bringing her a new appreciation for life and her health. 

She said: ‘I remember a door in front of me and a full moon illuminating it with water on the ground. 

‘Death was speaking to me and it was empathetic and telling me there was no shame in giving up.

‘At first I was like “I’m done” but then I saw my life flash by all at once and I backed out of it.’

The infection got so bad that doctors seriously considered amputating Carolina’s arm at her shoulder.

But they were able to save her arm with debridement surgeries, in which chunks of the infected flesh are removed.

‘The doctor started irrigating the wound with anti-fungal because the I.V. anti-fungals weren’t working for me. Somehow it worked. But the recovery was really rough,’ said Carolina. 

When she got out of hospital she took medical leave from her studies to heal and ‘relearn how to do a lot of things’ as she was dominant on her left side and did not use her right arm often. 

Carolina refused skin grafts and decided to let her wound close without them because she did not want to have more surgery. 

She said: ‘I opted to have no skin grafts because I did die during one of my surgeries, so I really didn’t want anymore surgical intervention.

‘I’ve had this wound for about a year and three months and it’s almost closed up all the way.’

After just over a year Carolina said that her kidneys and respiratory system has healed with her left arm being the only remaining issue. 

She said: ‘I was kind of on a destructive path before this I didn’t care that much about my health.

‘Dying really does remind you of your own mortality that was a major takeaway for me and learning to appreciate the small things.’

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