'Spiteful' cat leaves woman fighting for life in coma after scratch leads to flesh-eating bug
Shirley Hair, 65, almost died after her 'spiteful' Siamese cat, Chan, scratched her hand and the wound became infected.
Grandmother-of-five Shirley initially put her symptoms down to a bad bout of flu as she also felt dizzy, had no appetite, was confused and her muscles ached.
But Shirley was rushed to Southmead Hospital, Bristol, when the inflamed gash on her knuckle turned bright red and spread from her hand up her arm.
She was diagnosed with sepsis, septic shock, organ failure, pneumonia and Necrotizing fasciitis (NF) - a flesh-eating disease which results in the death of parts of the body's soft tissue and which can prove fatal.
Medics performed emergency surgery to remove the infected tissue from her hand before Shirley was placed in a medically-induced coma - to allow her body to rest whilst she recovered.
Shirley spent five days in a coma, more than six weeks in hospital and underwent a series of operations and skin grafts.
Now back at home in Winterbourne, Bristol, Shirley, has re-homed her £400 pedigree cat, Chan.
Shirley, a retired carer, who lives with her husband, Bob, 69, a former betting shop manager, said: "'That cat had always been spiteful, he was very expensive though!
''The day he scratched me I'd been gardening, I tried to pick him up for a cuddle but he wasn't having it.
''The scratch was quite deep, but I didn't think much of it until I started to get flu-like symptoms and totally lost my appetite.
''A doctor came out to see me and prescribed antibiotics, but after a few days I was feeling worse than ever.
''Then my arm began to get red and started swelling up really fast. It was scary. I was rushed into hospital and I was terrified as by that point I'd realised this was something very serious.
''The medics were amazing, but even after the emergency surgery to remove the tissue, I just carried on deteriorating. I felt like I was going to die. I couldn't believe this could all happen from a simple scratch.'' Shirley bought Chan from a breeder in Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire, in July, 2016, when she spotted an ad on Gumtree.
She brought him home as a 10-week-old kitten and he quickly settled into their household, alongside their Labrador, Finn.
At first the moggie was quite nervous and didn't like being handled, but as he got older he became 'quite savage' - regularly lashing out at his owners.
Shirley said: "Bob and I went to view a litter of kittens and we instantly fell in love with Chan.
"He was adorable and we thought he'd be the perfect addition to our family.
"We'd had Siamese cats before and knew they can be a bit cantankerous, but thought with some love and affection he would be the perfect family pet.
"But as Chan got older he only got more aggressive - often leaving us with bites and scratches."
After her hospital admission in April 2018, Shirley's devastated family were told to 'expect the worst' by doctors who formally identified the cat scratch as the cause of her illness.
She was placed in an induced coma on 11th April until 15th when she began to come around.
The worried relatives, including her husband of 32 years, Bob, decided to keep a diary of her progress on the advice of intensive care nurses.
In one particularly poignant entry on 19th April, her daughter Rosie, 34, care home manager, from Bristol wrote: ''Mum you've had a difficult night your heart stopped beating but then restarted - we are all so worried.
''We know you are strong but also tired, we are willing your recovery. If love could fix you, you'd be home already.'' In another husband Bob writes: ''It's Friday,my brown eyed girl, and after a soggy chilly start the sun is beating down.We miss you at home. When I awake in the dark of night I feel you around and then you are gone and I realise what has been happening.'' After a series of procedures, Shirley continued to deteriorate and she suffered two heart attacks after another operation to remove the infection on Wednesday 18th April 2018.
Medics were then forced to sedate and ventilate her in order to stabilise her condition.
She was kept in ICU for almost a month before she began to show signs of improvement.
Shirley explained: ''After coming out of the coma I was severely paranoid due to the combination of infection and medication. I became convinced that I was responsible for the whole thing.
''My son, James, told me that the cat did it but I didn't believe him, I thought they were all covering for me. It was so distressing.
''On top of that I'd been having dreadful nightmares - I was convinced I was in a video game, running from monsters. It was absolutely horrific.'' To combat Shirley's anxiety her loving family, including children, Zoe, 46, Jessica, 40, James, 38, and Rosie, 34, kept her calm by spending hours by her bedside.
Desperate to help her relax they tried talking and playing relaxing music, as the agitation was making her heart rate dangerously high.
Once she was well enough, doctors performed a skin graft from the top of her leg in order to cover the 'gaping wound' on her arm - which was so deep her tendons were exposed.
A vac pump - a machine which decreases air pressure on the wound - was fitted in order to help the skin tissue grow and she was given multiple physiotherapy sessions to regain movement.
After over eight operations and over two months in hospital the plucky gran is now home and well- with her hand 'almost as good as it was'.
She said: ''I can't thank my family and the NHS enough for getting me back to almost full health.
''It's really been quite an ordeal, but they've all supported me 100% every single step of the way.
''My memory isn't as good as it was, I can be quite absent minded nowadays and I'm definitely not as sharp as I was before I got ill. But I'm here and that's all that matters.
''I went back to visit the amazing nurses in ICU and they were speechless to see me looking so well.
''They said to me 'not everyone comes out of here as perky as you Shirley' and that's when it really hit home how lucky I am to be alive. Some people must not come out at all.
''I've even read through all the diary entries my family wrote, I can't get through them without weeping. The depth of love they have for me is just staggering.
''I feel like the luckiest woman alive! After all that happened I decided I really couldn't face Chan the cat anymore so my daughter Zoe volunteered to have him.
''She popped him in a basket and took him home to Wales on the train. She loves animals and isn't really fazed by much at all.
''Our lovely golden Labrador Finn is glad to see the back of Chan too, after having his ears bitten constantly, he can relax now.''
April 8th - Cat scratched her
April 11th- Admitted to hospital, placed in induced coma
April 12th- Diagnosed with necrosis/sepsis etc had emergency op to remove infection
April 15th- Began waking from coma
April 18th- Operation to remove infection and had two cardiac arrests, sedated again
April 20th- Woke from being sedated
April 26th- First skin graft on her hand
May 2nd- Transferred to plastic surgery ward
May 3rd- Realised skin graft hadn't taken
May 7th - Another unsuccessful attempt made to skin graft
May 18th- SENT HOME
May 29th- Outpatient, back at the hospital for a vac pump to be fitted, no attempt at skin graft
July 21st- 3rd skin graft attempted, was successful!