Tara is 34 years old and lives in Liedekerke, Belgium. She’s married to Birger, is Emma’s mum (6) and Dylan’s stepmother (13).
“Madame, you’re awake but we’re sadly enough not able to save your hands and legs.” News that has an enormous impact. You wouldn’t wish it to anyone, but this is what Tara, 33 years old and mother of two, got to hear on Thursday, the 17th of January 2019. A young woman who had just figured out how to live her life, who was able to enjoy time with her family and who still had so much to discover. All at once, her ability to go wherever she wants, her independency, is taken away from her – literally. The cause? Streptococcus pyogenes, better known as the flesh-eating bacteria.
How it all began
Tara became very ill during the Christmas holidays. First it seemed like she was having a very bad flu, but because she started having inexplicable pain and couldn’t stand up straight anymore, Tara went to the hospital. At the hospital, they only found low infection levels in her blood, and they sent her home. A decision that tipped the balance. A decision that caused that the outcome is worse than what it could have been, because the infection had doubled in only one day. She had to throw up continuously and her chest had a blood-red colour.
When she also started experiencing agonizing chest pain, she was brought to another hospital where she ended up at intensive care. She went into a septic shock and not even 12 hours after she arrived, Tara was put into an artificial coma. Something was clearly wrong. All her vital organs stopped working, but her heart kept beating. It had to receive some support, but it kept working.
The terrible news
On Monday the 31st of December 2018, we received the terrible news: Tara’s body was being attacked by the flesh-eating bacteria. A bacteria that intruded her body via a crack between two toes. A bacteria that has a spectacular course once it gets into the bloodstream and can be deadly in only 24 hours. Her body received high doses of antibiotics, in order to eradicate the bacteria. A difficult task, as the bacteria itself is very aggressive. We could only wait and hope that the antibiotics were being effective. We went through terrible long hours and days of not knowing what would happen next.
After more or less ten days, the doctors started telling us that the tide was turning. She would survive if she didn’t have any complications, but we would never get Tara back the way we used to know her. Well, deep in our hearts, we already knew that because each day, more and more tissue died, and we couldn’t stop it. What started with the back of one finger, ended halfway her lower arms and above the knee for both legs. The black discolouration crept up in her skin, like a thief in the night, and there was nothing we could do. A terrible feeling.
Now we’re February. Tara is currently in a university hospital, is awake after being in a coma for three weeks, can breathe again independently and is talking. All her organs recovered well but she might be left with a swallow problem (perhaps temporary) due to the breathing tube. In the meantime, all the amputations are done and she can start recovering. It’s a lot to stomach. Tara has lost half of both her lower arms and lost her legs up to halfway her thighs. Because of this, the most basic tasks become an ordeal: going to the toilet, getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, eating or giving your kids a hug when you know they really need one. A harsh reality. A reality of which you wish it was only a nightmare. A reality of which you know that Tara awaits a long and extremely tough rehabilitation, and one of which you know that she won’t be able to return to her family this year.
What’s up next
The incidence of the flesh-eating bacteria is only 0.16 to 0.24 in 100,000 people in Europe. And of this minimal number, the percentage of people having to undergo a quadruple amputation is very rare. The bacteria has caused an inhumane amount of damage in a very short period of time. Tara has already fought for her life, even the doctors say it’s a miracle that she has woken up. But she will have to fight even harder in the future. She will have to fight the unfairness of life and her body, which will often refuse to cooperate during her rehabilitation. But she wants to go for it. She wants to keep fighting. She wants to see her children grow up. We admire her for that and we need to help her with that.
Tara has lost half of both her lower arms as well as both her legs up to halfway her thighs. Because of this, she won’t be able to learn to walk with “normal” prostheses. Even for people who still have both their hands, learning to walk again on two prostheses is incredibly hard, according to doctors. Tara doesn’t have her hands anymore, and thus her only choice are electric prostheses. Electric prostheses which cost a tremendous amount of money. And then we’re not even talking about the cost for arm prostheses, medical bills, refurbishment costs and other necessary equipment. Electric prostheses are her only shot at a somewhat dignified life, which will enable her to walk around a bit, instead of not being able to walk around at all. If she can handle it physically, of course. If we can’t give her the care she needs and deserves, Tara, a 33-year-old mum, will be sitting in an electric wheelchair for the rest of her life.
When we go visit her, she always asks instantly about her prostheses. We tell her we’ll make sure she only gets the best ones, and then she smiles. Those twinkling eyes, her combativeness to continue her life and her smile, encourage us to give everything we’ve got to be able to give her what she needs to live a life as comfortable as possible. Because she didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this. But we cannot help her alone. We also need your help. Tara and her family are going to have a million things to worry about, let’s make sure all together that the financial aspect doesn’t have to be one.
Tara and her family and relatives are forever grateful.