Red Deer woman dies after battling flesh-eating disease for 15 months

A Red Deer woman died after 15 months in hospital battling complications from flesh-eating disease.

Jennifer Cormier McFarlane

A Red Deer woman died after 15 months in hospital battling complications from flesh-eating disease.

Jennifer Cormier McFarlane, 33, died June 21 in an Edmonton hospital. She went to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre with what she thought was a serious flu on April 6, 2008.

Her mother Joanne Anderson of Calgary credits staff at Red Deer hospital for quickly diagnosing the disease.

“Diagnosis is the hard part. You’re usually gone before they find it,” Anderson said on Monday.

McFarlane spent four months in intensive care and underwent several surgeries, including the amputation of her left leg. She would show improvement and then face another complication.

“It was just torture for that whole time. It was like a roller coaster. There were so many surgeries and so many ongoing problems,” her mother said.

She couldn’t stay on intravenous nourishment long enough to repair the damage to her bowel. Her kidneys quit at Christmas.

Dr. Martin Lavoie, medical officer of health with the central zone of Alberta Health Services, said is it unusual to be in hospital for so long due to the disease.

“It must have been quite a severe case with many complications,” Lavoie said.

According to Health Canada, flesh-eating disease is an infection that works its way rapidly through the layers of tissue that surround muscles.

It destroys tissue and can cause death within 12 to 24 hours.

Necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh-eating disease, can be caused by a number of different bacteria, including Group A streptococcus (GAS), which is a very common bacteria that causes strep throat, as well as invasive illnesses like pneumonia and meningitis.

Many people carry GAS in the throat or on their skin without getting sick. Few people who come into contact with GAS will develop a serious disease.

From 2003 to 2005, Alberta had 437 invasive GAS cases, found mostly in people over 30. Twenty people died.

Anderson said her daughter, a bartender at Chillibongs, touched the hearts of hospital staff at the Royal Alex Hospital where nurses and doctors cared for her for many months. Almost $40,000 was raised at a fundraiser last spring at Chillibongs to buy her a prosthetic limb.

“The night they did that fundraiser, they said it was magical. People who used to work at Chillibongs came in and donated their tips. All their customers put up stuff for the silent auction.

“Red Deer is a fabulous place, if you ask me.”

Her daughter and son-in-law Paul McFarlane moved to Red Deer about three years ago.

A memorial will be held for McFarlane on Aug. 1. People are asked to RSVP to Anderson at 403-640-6204 or at

She said her daughter did not want a funeral. She wanted a party.

“She didn’t want people crying. She wanted them laughing.”

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