A 52-year-old Australian socialite, Stephenie Rodriguez, has narrated how she got her two feet amputated and endured an 18-month nightmare when she contracted cerebral malaria from a mosquito bite during a visit to Lagos.
In a report by the Sydney Morning Herald, the single mother and digital entrepreneur said she had visited Lagos in 2019 to speak at a business gathering for travel executives. She said during the gathering, she and the invited guests were asked to assemble outside for a photo shoot next to a pool of stagnant water. She said it was while she was there that she got bitten three times by a mosquito on her left ankle.
Armed with enough insect repellant, Rodriguez said she conscientiously doused herself in insect repellant but did not take any anti-malaria drugs because of the bad reaction she suffered when she took one sometime back.
”The organisers asked me to go outside for a photo shoot with delegates. They had drones, shot B roll [extra footage], and vox pops. It was filmed next to a pool of stagnant water. It was sunset. That’s when I believe I was bitten three times by a mosquito on my left ankle” she said.
Days later after flying to India, Rodriguez said she began to feel tired and unwell but dismissed the feeling, describing it as ‘out of character’ and ‘compound jet-lag’. It was while she got to Boston that she had to be rushed to the hospital after she took ill at the airport and was struggling to eat and drink.
She was rushed to the Massachusetts General Hospital where an infectious diseases specialist had confirmed that Rodriguez had cerebral malaria. By then she had fallen into a coma. According to the doctors, Rodriguez had only a two percent chance of survival after Artesunate – a drug used to treat severe malaria – sent her into septic shock and organ failure.
In a last-ditch effort to save her life, doctors used vasopressor drugs to redirect blood flow from her limbs to her vital organs.
“It was the last trick in the bag, and they cautioned my family that if I survived, there would be collateral damage. The vasopressors robbed my feet and hands, the things furthest from my heart, of blood and like frostbite, the areas without blood and oxygen began to die.” she said
The drugs caused her feet and hands to blacken from necrosis and at one point she witnessed her own toe fall off into her hand.
“It was horrible, absolutely horrible. Completely unimaginable,’ she said.
After being airlifted back to Australia, doctor’s advised Rodriguez would have to undergo an above-the-knee amputation along with several fingers. Horrified by the thought, Rodriguez said she held off on the procedure and instead, chose to undergo multiple skin grafts and surgeries to see if her condition would improve.
Eventually, she had to have her remaining toes amputated and slowly came to the realization she couldn’t put it off any longer.
Wheelchair-bound and unable to stand from unbearable pain, Rodriguez underwent drastic surgery to have both feet amputated and replaced with above-ankle bilateral osseointegrated implants and mechanical feet.
“It’s bizarre, but I had to cut my feet off to walk again,” she said.
Attached to the ends of each rod via an allen key are a pair of prosthetic feet that now allow Rodriguez to move freely again.
But after thirty-six surgeries, Rodriguez is the first woman in Australia to receive the implants and mechanical feet which was developed by Australian professor, Munjed Al Muderis. The Iraqi who became a leading surgeon of robotic limbs convinced her that giving up her blackened dead feet was her only hope of walking again.
Following surgery and hours of painful rehabilitation, Rodriguez celebrated a recent achievement of being able to walk in a pair of 4cm kitten heels again.
“I never really felt ‘dressed’ until I had a pair of killer heels on; the higher, the better. That’s just the sort of girl I was… still am,” she said.