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WA woman with ‘the biggest heart’ diagnosed with staph infection in her spine

WA woman with ‘the biggest heart’ diagnosed with staph infection in her spine

A WA-based woman is unable to walk after what she thought was a simple muscle strain turned out to be a potentially fatal bacterial infection.

New Zealand native Karen Stevens, who has lived in Australia for eight years, began feeling unwell late last month.

She put it down to a strained neck muscle, which she assumed was caused during her cleaning job.

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Doctors told Stevens to rest and come back if the pain worsened.

On July 28, the 54-year-old was rushed to hospital in a critical condition, with a loss of feeling and movement in her arms and legs.

She was suffering from an acute onset of sensory and motor deficits in her lower body and limbs and, after multiple tests and scans, it was revealed she had developed a staph infection.

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Staph bacteria are a common bacteria usually found on your skin and in your nose but which can enter your body through open wounds or injuries, leading to infection.

In serious cases, staph infections can cause sepsis or death.

Stevens’ daughter-in-law, Miro Ellis, said the infection had damaged the nerves, tissues and bones surrounding her spine.

“She underwent emergency surgery to remove bone and drain abscesses that were compressing her spinal cord,” Ellis wrote in a fundraiser set up for Stevens.

Karen Stevens, 54, is from New Zealand but has been living in Australia for eight years. Credit: GoFundMe

Stevens looked to be stable after the surgery — but “things took a turn for the worse” just three days later, Ellis said.

“After another emergency MRI, the doctors advised the infection had now entered the spinal canal and travelled further up the spine damaging the C2-C7, affecting not only her sensation and movement but also her ability to breathe independently,” Ellis said.

Stevens underwent another surgery as her family were warned she may not make it out.

She was given just a 10 per cent chance of survival.

“(Doctors) strongly suggested another surgery to flush the spine and drain further abscesses that were now compressing the cervical area of the spine,” Ellis said.

“Her prognosis looked to be quite bleak, even with the surgery.”

Stevens did pull through and eventually regained the ability to breathe on her own.

However, she still has no feeling in her legs and only limited movement in her arms.

Karen Stevens had several surgeries after the staph infection entered her spine, and is unable to walk. Credit: GoFundMe

While she is out of the ICU, she is now awaiting a place at the spinal unit at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

“She has defied all odds and we are confident, with hard work, she will regain some normality in her life with time,” Ellis said.

Ellis has set up a GoFundMe which has so far raised more than $12,000.

Because Stevens is not an Australian citizen, she has been unable to receive any government support.

The money raised will fund her recovery in Australia, and then taking her back to New Zealand for rehab at a Christchurch spinal unit.

“(Stevens) has the biggest heart and would do anything for anyone. She hates asking for help even when faced with the biggest adversity of her life,” Ellis said.

“We want to help her focus on her recovery without the stress of worrying about no income and no financial support.”

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