Colleen Watters lost fingers, toes and a foot from a streptococcal infection last year. She recently shared her story. (Photo contributed by Colleen Watters)

Red Deer woman shares battle with rare strep A infection, loss of foot, fingers and toes

With a headache lingering for two days, the pain was unbearable for Colleen Watters.

“After being at work for about an hour I got a massive headache I couldn’t handle,” Watters said. Her boss drove her home, but the headache didn’t subside.

She called an ambulance that evening, but they advised her not to go the hospital just yet. The next day, a Friday, at 4 p.m. she went the hospital and was checked over.

She wouldn’t leave the hospital for three months.

“By 5 p.m., I coded,” said Watters. “I had total organ failure. From there on I remember waking up and saying to them that the pain was unbearable and ‘I can’t handle this.’

“I woke up nine days later.”

When she woke up her hands and feet were black. She was diagnosed with a severe, and rare, strep A infection. The 50-year-old Red Deer woman is sharing her story to warn others of the potentially fatal or debilitating disease that struck her.

During surgery on the Saturday, doctors discovered a number of organs inside Watters were black.

“That’s when they said I had streptococcus A,” she said. “That’s what brought me into septic shock. It was poisoning my blood and it shut down everything else.”

Doctors were forced to amputate her left foot, all the toes on her right foot and four fingers.

A year later, her kidneys only function at 23 per cent and she needs a replacement. She was told it was due to the stress of her total organ failure.

She didn’t walk for six months as she rehabilitated from the loss of her foot and her toes.

“I’m recovering,” she said. “Things are not going to ever be the same again. I have not gone back to work yet, but I do plan on going back. I’m just not sure what I will be able to do.”

An 11-year-old Mississauga, Ont. girl lost both her limbs from streptococcus A, similar to the experience Watters went through. Watters said she wanted to share her story to make people more aware of the disease and ask why “are people becoming so ill.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, reported cases of Streptococcal A rose between 2000 and 2014, from 2.81 cases per 100,000 in 2000 to 5.14 cases per 100,000 in 2014.

Similarly, Alberta Health tracked increased rates of Streptococcal A from 148 cases in 2000 to 248 in 2012.

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