When one young woman started suffering from a sore throat, she thought nothing of it. To her, it was a minor ailment and one not worthy of medical care. But when she came round one week later, she was horrified to see that she’d lost eight fingers and toes.
Shelby Smith lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and in late 2016 she was just an average 27-year-old who liked to stay fit and active. In fact, she was at the peak of her health, and she hadn’t been ill for as long as she could remember.
So when Smith caught a mild throat infection in December that year, it came as something of a surprise. Unfortunately, financial issues meant that she didn’t have any health insurance, and so she had little choice but to wait for her illness to pass.
Soon, however, Smith’s temperature had rocketed to 103 degrees, while she was also simultaneously suffering from severe cold sweats. But with no access to medical care, she still refused to visit a doctor.
Unfortunately, it was then that Smith’s health took a turn for the worse. “I started shaking and convulsing,” she told WATE in March 2017. “My lips started turning blue and my eyes were rolling in the back of my head.”
Consequently, Smith at last decided to call an ambulance. Her health was still on a nosedive, though, and the young woman was fast becoming critically ill. In fact, when she got to the hospital, her throat had started to constrict and her organs were beginning to shut down.
“Still in my mind, I didn’t think I was as sick as I really was,” Smith told WATE. She was, however, very poorly indeed. Yes, Smith’s condition was so desperate that doctors decided to put her in an induced coma for seven days.
When Smith awoke, the most devastating effects of her ordeal became clear. She opened her eyes to discover that many of her fingers and some of her toes had turned an alarming shade of black. It was almost as if her digits were withering away while still attached to her body.
Throughout her ordeal, Smith’s boyfriend Caleb Weinzierl was at her side. But the situation left him feeling completely helpless. “We just didn’t know what was going on and what she was being attacked by,” he explained.
At this point, both Weinzierl and Smith thought that her days were numbered. “That was the most terrified I’ve been in my life,” he told Inside Edition. Smith, meanwhile, added, “I would say that I was as close to death as you can be without dying.”
Smith had suffered from a catastrophic case of strep infection, and as a result, her body had gone into septic shock. “It looked like something out of a horror movie,” she said of the sight with which she was confronted when she awoke.
Streptococci bacteria affects the throat and is passed on through sneezing and coughing. It’s a widespread infection, too. Doctors diagnose millions of people in the U.S. with strep each year, but each infection can vary greatly in severity. In some cases, strep can even be life-threatening.
Unfortunately for Smith, she had contracted a rare strain of strep that was particularly extreme. If she was to beat the illness, then, the health of her organs was vital. So, to fight the infection, doctors decided to use medication to send her blood flow straight to her organs.
Consequently, though, that stopped the circulation in Smith’s hands and feet. And as a result, doctors had to amputate all of the digits on her right hand, her left index finger and two toes from her left foot.
Smith’s infection even shocked medical professionals. “These cases are rare, few hundred cases a year in the U.S.,” Dr. Jeffry King, Smith’s doctor, told WATE. “This is one of the most life-threatening illnesses we see as far as a bacterial infection.”
Now, however, a recovered Smith is trying to look on the bright side of life. And after discovering that a man from Michigan with the same illness recently needed a quadruple amputation, she even considers herself lucky. “Either [I] buckle under the pressure or I can pick myself up and make a new normal,” she told WATE.
By the looks of things, there was plenty to get excited about, too. Three days after her operation, Weinzierl asked Smith to marry him, and without hesitation, she said yes.
Later, Smith paid tribute to her fiancé on Facebook. “Even when my heart tried to give out, you never let go of the hope that I would return,” she wrote. “I truly can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.”
The start to the couple’s new life together was, however, less than ideal. Because she didn’t have medical insurance, Smith was facing a charge of $100,000 for her treatment – leaving the couple lumbered with debt. Consequently, her step-mom, Cary Springer Smith, set up a crowdfunding campaign to help settle the huge hospital bill.
But, despite her ordeal and her resultant debt, Smith remained positive. After all, she had come very close to never seeing her loved ones again. “Every day I see this as a reminder I have a second chance at life. Because I could be dead,” she told Inside Edition.