TOPEKA, Kan. — Nearly four months have passed since the day Tamara Owsley’s life changed forever.
This past Memorial Day, the 32-year-old mother was bitten by a spider while playing with her children.
Days passed and the bite only got worse.
Before rushing to get help and meeting with doctors, Owsley said her arm swelled to two to three times its normal size.
She later learned she had been infected with necrotizing fasciitis, a rare disease commonly called “flesh-eating bacteria.”
On Thursday, Owsley spoke with 41 Action News at a park in Topeka not far from her home.
“It’s just a nightmare. That’s all I can say about it,” she said. “It’s like an emotional roller coaster and stressful on everybody.”
While Owsley wore a t-shirt, the scars on her body could easily be seen.
From surgical lines on her chest and near her back to the areas missing on the front of her left arm, Owsley said the marks from the disease were still tough for her to see.
“I don’t like to look at my arm. I just don’t,” she said. “My whole arm is numb. I can’t feel nothing on the arm.”
In total, Owsley has undergone 16 surgeries since she first went into the emergency room at the University of Kansas Hospital.
After spending 42 days at the facility, she said the disease has led to challenges every day.
“The Tammy before this happened has died and there’s a new Tammy here that’s just relearning everything,” she said. “I can’t do anything I used to do. I can’t even do my own hair. I can’t put my hair up. I can’t lift my arm up.”
The difficulties with her recovery and coming to grips with the aftermath of the infection have left her feeling hopeless at times over the past few weeks.
“I was ready to give up,” she told 41 Action News. “I told the doctors I didn’t want anymore surgeries.”
Owsley’s case represents one of the 700 to 1,200 cases of necrotizing fasciitis reported on average in the US every year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, necrotizing fasciitis continues to be very rare.
However, it can lead to loss of limbs and even death.
While the exact cause of the disease still remains unknown, researchers say "flesh-eating bacteria" often enters through breaks in the skin (cuts, burns, insect bites, puncture or surgical wounds).
People with cancer, kidney disease, and diabetes are also more likely than others to get the infection.
Before spending every day with her at the hospital, Tamara’s husband said he knew nothing about the disease.
“One night she was sleeping and I did all the research on my laptop,” David Savard said. “I read about how the only way to cure was to keep cutting.”
With Savard now working multiple jobs to help the family and pay the medical bills, he looked on the bright side after Tamara’s infection.
“The scars don’t affect me much,” he said. “I’m just glad she’s here. It doesn't matter what she looks like.”
Tamara has her 17th surgery scheduled for Monday.
She told 41 Action News that she has at least five more surgeries planned for her recovery.
As a way to help her family and pay for medical bills, Tamara has organized a GoFundMe drive.