Meet the patients: Heather Parsons

Heather ParsonsHeather, 47, started getting back pains on her way home from a skiing holiday in Turin, Italy. By the time she got home, the pain had spread to her leg and she called NHS Direct.

They initially thought she might have deep vein thrombosis, but later that night she was admitted to hospital for surgery on a suspected abscess. After that, Heather, from Romsey, doesn’t remember anything.

She woke up in Southampton’s General Intensive Care Unit (GICU) nearly two weeks later. Heather’s pain had actually been caused by necrotising fasciitis, a rare and aggressive soft tissue infection that can be fatal. Her body’s immune system did not fight the infection and her organs began to fail. Her kidneys stopped working, she suffered a heart attack and her breathing had to be supported.

Without the interventions available in GICU, Heather would not have survived. The GICU team worked closely with their surgical colleagues and microbiologists to help Heather recover from the necrotising fasciitis.

She had repeated surgery to remove the dead tissue in her leg and antibiotics to help her body fight the infection. A few days after regaining consciousness, Heather was transferred to Salisbury District Hospital, where she underwent plastic surgery on almost the entire length of her left leg.

Heather said: “The support I had from the team on GICU made a huge difference to me, as I was facing the consequences of the illness. They were the bees’ knees and spiders’ ankles! 

“While I was unconscious I know they washed my hair and sprayed my perfume.

“Afterwards, the nurses helped me to fill in the blanks about what had happened to me, and how it had affected my body. I was having memory problems, which was very frightening, so it was great when they told me that this was normal after what I’d been through.”

Within a year of her illness, Heather had run a half marathon to raise money for GICU, and has continued fundraising by making and selling greeting cards.

Heather's story was first published in Connect magazine