Mattishall woman's brush with death

When Tracy Marjoram first felt unwell, she thought she had something in her eye.But within 24 hours she was on a life-support machine suffering from organ failure.

WHEN Tracy Marjoram first felt unwell, she thought she had something in her eye.

But within 24 hours she was on a life-support machine suffering from organ failure. She had been struck by a flesh-eating bug, necrotising fasciitis, which nearly killed her.

The mother-of-two was left without a right eyelid or her upper cheek, and the scarring caused her eyelids to fuse together so she could barely see. But after highly specialised treatment at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, including three operations, her face has been rebuilt. Six months after the last operation, she now looks back to normal.

The treatment was so successful that it has been presented to a national conference of ophthalmic surgeons. And Bijan Beigi, the ophthalmic surgeon who treated her, is writing a paper with colleagues for an international journal, Opthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, so that other surgeons around the world can learn from the experience.

Necrotising fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that can destroy skin and the soft tissues beneath it, including fat and the tissue covering the muscles. The bacteria release toxins which cause the tissues to die rapidly.

For Mrs Marjoram, a catering assistant at Mattishall Primary School, her ordeal started in June

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2005. She said: "I was working on

my allotment and my eye was

itching. I thought I had a blade of grass or something in my eye.

"I bathed it and went to bed. I didn't realise I had a flesh-eating bug. I woke up the next day and I didn't know what was wrong. I couldn't find my bearings. I went to the doctor and he took one look at me and said he was going to get me to the hospital. All I remember is the anaesthetist asking me if I had had any breakfast."

She was placed on a life-support machine with organ failure and was operated on to remove the infected tissue. She spent three days in intensive care and then three weeks on Coltishall ward at the N&N, followed by daily check-ups at the hospital to make sure the infection had not spread.

The 42-year-old said: "I feel lucky to be alive. I owe Mr Beigi my life, and the staff on intensive care and Coltishall ward."

Since then she has had three operations to rebuild her face, and is thrilled with the results. She said: "I felt like a freak when I first came out of hospital. I had three months off work - when I went back my eye was just a slit. But Mr Beigi has done such a wonderful job with repairing all the flesh that had been eaten away."

Necrotising fasciitis is very rare but can be serious. Around a third of those who develop it die, but once it has spread to the neck and chest, as it had in Mrs Marjoram, the outlook is far worse.

Mr Beigi said: "Once the disease has spread to the neck and chest, there is a 90pc chance of dying. Going through that and coming out of it is an achievement for her."

Mr Beigi performs 500 eyelid and face operations a year, but has only seen five similar cases in the past 10 years. He says the results of his handiwork "have come up very nicely".

He said: "Achieving the functional part of the eyelid is the most difficult thing. It is not just how they look, they should shut well and open well. If you don't have a working eyelid you will lose your eye eventually, within five or 10 years.

"She is young and I am pleased that not only does she look normal, she has a working eyelid."