Near to death Cut almost claimed woman’s life

By Patrick Tansey

Strathmerton’s Charlotte Elliott has endured 17 surgeries and come close to death after suffering a simple cut on her leg while on holiday in the Northern Territory.

She has been in Royal Darwin Hospital for the past 11 weeks as doctors first battled to save her leg and then her life as the infection raged through her body.

The 20-year-old was in the NT with her sister Grace when she cut her left leg while climbing a fence in Alice Springs.

She was so ‘‘out of it’’ for the first three weeks in hospital she did not even realise doctors feared for her life.

‘‘It took me a while to realise just how bad it was,’’ Charlotte said.

‘‘Those first three weeks — I think that time was probably harder on my family than it was on me because they knew a lot of the information that I couldn’t comprehend because I was on so many painkillers.

‘‘There’s a lot of that period I just don’t remember. I was in a lot of pain; it wasn’t easy at all but I sort of just made myself sleep to get through the pain,’’ she said.

‘‘It wasn’t until one of the surgeons who saw me on the first day I got flown in from Alice Springs came to see me and she said to me they were really nervous that I wouldn’t make it and that I wouldn’t keep my leg.

‘‘I kind of said to Mum afterwards, ‘did I almost just die?’. I had no idea it was that bad.’’

The toll on Charlotte’s body throughout the 11-week ordeal has been enormous.

Most of Charlotte’s surgeries involved cutting out the parts of her leg where the infection was worst.

She has already been through three skin grafts because the first two did not fully take. The latest graft is progressing well — but slowly.

Now, after nearly four months of painstaking surgeries and isolation from family, friends and normal life, Charlotte is only two to three weeks away from returning home.

‘‘I’ve had some really good news in the past week,’’ Charlotte said.

‘‘The rehab centre up here has actually rejected me; they’ve said I’m too advanced to start with them because of all the work I’ve already done with my physio, so I won’t need to go into any rehab therapy up here or back home.’’

Despite the good news, the battle is not completely over before Charlotte can return to full health.

‘‘Once I get home I’ll still have to do a fair bit of physio most days and will have to go to a fair few OT appointments as well just to do with scar management and protecting the wound, because it’s fairly week, it’s only one layer of skin,’’ she said.

She will have a series of check-ups at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and doctors there will refer her to a plastic surgeon so in a few years’ time she can undergo plastic surgery on her leg to strengthen the fragile skin.

After being bed-ridden for weeks on end, the courageous young woman only started walking again a few weeks ago.

She recently achieved the milestone of walking up four fights of stairs and is working on regaining her balance and building up the strength in her legs.

She said the position of the wound had also brought physical challenges with her recovery efforts.

‘‘The wound comes up just above my left knee and it’s made my knee really quite tight. I can’t really put socks and shoes on yet, so I need to loosen it up.’’

Thankfully for her emotional wellbeing — and her battered body — Charlotte had her final operation three weeks ago.

‘‘It was such a relief to hear I wouldn’t need any more,’’ she said.

While the stress has been overwhelming she said it almost got to the point where the surgeries and treatments were so regular it became like a normal routine.

‘‘With all the surgeries, I kind of got to the stage where I’d had so many that I got to know all the surgeons and anaesthetists so it wasn’t as nerve-wracking because I was familiar with all the staff, so it kind of got less scary as it went on,’’ she said.

Charlotte said having her mother Tracy by her side was crucial.

‘‘I’ve had my mum with me the whole time I’ve been up here and other family and friends have come and gone so that’s been a really big help.

‘‘If I was sitting here on my own I would not have gotten through it like I have.’’

A gofundme page was set up to raise money for the cost of Charlotte’s medical treatment. So far $7900 has been raised from the initial target of $10000.

Charlotte admitted it had been a humbling experience to see the support from the Strathmerton and Cobram communities as well as all her friends in Melbourne (where she now lives).

‘‘It’s been insane, all the fundraising that has happened.

‘‘Even at the Strathy pub and the local footy club having tins for me was amazing.

‘‘My old high school Cobram Anglican Grammar have done their Father’s Day raffle for me. Even at my uni they’ve had sausage sizzles and things like that to help out.

‘‘Even people I don’t know that well have done so much for me; I just can’t wait to get home and thank everyone and give them a big hug.’’

While the community’s care and compassion was extraordinary, Charlotte’s determination to beat the infection has been inspiring.

‘‘I just kind of thought, well, I’m here, there’s nothing I can really do about it so I just decided to make the most of it while I was here.’’

But while she has put on a brave face for the majority of her stay in hospital, she said she’d had moments when it seemed almost impossible to remain upbeat.

‘‘There were some days I just couldn’t stop crying. So many people climb a fence and nothing happens to them and I was wondering why this had happened to me — but I would have my cry and realise there was nothing I could do about it and I would have to pull myself together again.’’

Now the tears are behind her, Charlotte said the memory of what she had been through would only serve to make her stronger.