FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. -- Twelve days after doctors told a woman that she was finally clear of a life-threatening flesh-eating bacteria infection, she took a turn for the worse and died.
Crystal Spencer, 33, had spent a month in and out of three hospitals. Her husband had been visiting a rehabilitation hospital Sunday where she was about to be transferred when the hospital called and told him to return immediately.
"As soon as I got off the elevator," the staff told him, "We've got some bad news," Jeff Spencer said.
A team of eight doctors worked for more than an hour to resuscitate his wife, amid alarms indicating she was near death three times. She died at 3:36 p.m. Sunday.
The family is raising money to conduct an autopsy to find out as much as they can about what happened. Results could take several weeks.
Until about a week ago when they learned that their application for Medicaid had been approved, the Spencers had limited health insurance. Now Jeff Spencer said he has thousands of dollars in medical debt from care not covered by insurance.
Crystal Spencer was a high school dropout and had been poor and underinsured or uninsured most of her life. She had adult-onset diabetes and weighed more than 300 pounds all of her adult life, factors that put her at higher risk of contracting the flesh-eating bacteria.
Her death from necrotizing fasciitis has drawn national attention to a rare disease many had never heard of and others knew only by its scary name: the flesh-eating bacteria.
Nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 500 to 1,500 cases a year; 1 in 5 people dies from it. Many others have fingers, toes or limbs amputated because the bacteria eats away at underlying layers of tissue.
Many cases are misdiagnosed or found late, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, a nonprofit founded by two women who survived the infection.
The foundation hopes to raise awareness about a problem that needs more education and hospital early intervention programs so symptoms can be caught and treated with antibiotics or the removal of dead skin and infected tissue, a procedure called debridement. Others need surgery, including extensive skin grafts.
Too often, patients get the wrong treatment because the infection is misdiagnosed, according to the foundation
Jeff Spencer said doctors at Huron Valley-Sinai in Commerce Township, Mich., originally had told him his wife had a urinary tract infection. At Botsford Hospital here, where she first sought care June 23 for what she thought was a boil on her upper right thigh, an emergency department physician lanced the protruding tissue and sent her home with a Motrin prescription, said Theresa Corwin of Farmington Hills, a close friend.
She and Spencer blame Botsford for not running blood tests to see whether white blood cell counts were elevated, a sign of infection.
They also wonder why a doctor there called the infected area on her leg an "abscess" -- an accumulation of pus and tissue triggered by an infection -- but gave them no warning that Crystal Spencer might be contagious. Corwin, who said she is certified in CPR and first aid, was given the job of cleaning the wound and changing the dressings four to five times a day when her friend got home.
On Monday, Botsford spokeswoman Margo Gorchow said it was unlikely that Crystal Spencer contracted necrotizing facitiitis there because the infection typically is not acquired in a hospital, and the woman had none of its symptoms when she came to the emergency department.
A spokeswoman for Huron Valley-Sinai declined comment both Monday and Tuesday, citing patient privacy laws.
Mostly, Spencer said he wants answers because "we don't want this to happen again to someone else."
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY