A woman made the drastic decision to have her legs amputated after she woke one morning to find sores on her limb crawling with maggots.
Victoria Abbott-Fleming, now 40, had fallen down a set of stairs at work and assumed she had suffered a simple cut and minor bruising.
But the injury would change her life forever, leaving her in constant agony and eventually leading to her losing both legs.
She even considered taking her own life when her right leg got so infected that she one day woke up to it swarming with live maggots, reports Wales Online.
“I went into the lounge and I saw that something in my leg was moving and I thought my eyes were deceiving me,” said Victoria, recalling the moment she discovered the maggots.
“When I saw what it was apparently I let out a blood-curdling scream and passed out. My husband thought I was being murdered.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES BELOW
“The only way he could get rid of them was to put disinfectant into some water and throw it at me.
“But my leg was so painful it felt like having an acid bath.”
Victoria, who studied at Aberystwyth University and had recently passed her bar exam, was just 24 when she slipped on some concrete steps in work in November 2003.
“When I stood up the pain immediately hit me. It made me feel sick,” she added.
“I didn’t know whether I had broken anything at the time but my car was about 100 yards away so I managed to walk to it.
“I called my husband and burst into tears. We lived about four miles away and I just wanted to get home so I drove – even though I don’t remember doing it.”
By the time she got home Victoria said her right leg from the knee down had “tripled in size”.
Rather than going to A&E she opted to visit a walk-in centre where she was given anti-swelling drugs and her wound was dressed.
“I used to play hockey a lot so I was used to injuries but I’d never had anything like this,” added the 40-year-old.
“The pain felt like boiling oil being poured on me 24/7 or like a hammer being thrown at my bone. It just never went away.
“We went to hospital after hospital, doctor after doctor, consultant after consultant – I think we saw 39 altogether – and none of them could offer any explanation as to why I was getting this pain.
“Many of them told me it was psychological. Depression did hit me quite badly and I was put on tablets but that just made things worse. I would burst into tears at the smallest of things, like an advert on TV.
“Because there were no answers I began to doubt myself and think that maybe I was dreaming this and that the pain was all in my head.”
Six months after the fall Victoria was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a condition normally triggered by an injury but that ends up being far more severe and long-lasting than would normally be expected.
Despite being classed as a rare condition it is thought to affect around 15,000 people in the UK every year.
“I was relieved to finally be ‘labelled’ with a condition. At last I felt vindicated and could prove that I wasn’t making it up,” she added.
“I was left with no support. At the time Google wasn’t like it is now so I could find very little about it.”
Due to her constant pain Victoria ended up losing her job and became a virtual recluse, only leaving her house to go to hospital.
“If I went shopping I would have to be very careful that no-one hit or touched my legs,” she said.
“But by 2005 I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t even wear shoes. Having a shower felt like acid rain.
“My husband had fallen in love with an athletic, sporty extrovert type but I’d turned into a hermit with black clouds constantly over me. I just didn’t feel like me.”
As her right leg continued to deteriorate it caused atrophy where the skin, tissue and bone of the affected limb simply waste away.
Open ulcers, swelling, and “elephant skin” soon began to appear which came with a terrible smell.
“People could smell me before they could see me. It was like rotting meat,” she said.
“I took myself out of a lot of situations before the other person could say ‘Can you smell that?’ I wanted to kill myself.”
But things hit rock bottom in August 2006 when Victoria, at 26 years old, woke up to find her leg crawling with maggots.
“You automatically assume that maggots mean dirt so I felt incredibly dirty,” she said.
“Even before the maggots appeared I knew I could not go on with this leg so I made the decision to have it amputated.”
In April 2006 Victoria and partner Michael made the decision to get married while she still had two legs, with the amputation just above the right knee taking place the following September.
She had another four inches taken off before the condition spread to her left leg which was amputated just before her 36th birthday in December 2014.
“When it got to my left leg I saw a world specialist in CRPS who said there was nothing he could do,” she added.
“The amputation took place two days before my birthday and I spent the day in intensive care. That’s not the best way to spend it, is it?”
Victoria, who continues to experience swelling and pain in the stumps of her legs, now takes 57 tablets every day.
She won a £2.1m payout from the workplace where she had the fall – although she says most of that went on medical bills and moving house.
But rather than shying away from her horrendous ordeal Derbyshire resident Victoria has set up a charity called Burning Nights which increases awareness of CRPS and supports sufferers around the world.
She is also starting a campaign in Parliament with MP Ruth George to get more research into the devastating nerve condition.
“Patients with CRPS often have mental health and financial problems as well as marriage and family break-ups. Those are the things that tend to be forgotten. GPs still do not know enough about it.”
For more information on the condition and the support available go to burningnightscrps.org.
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