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Patient Stories: Mary Millard

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After contracting an antibiotic-resistant infection, a woman from North Carolina faces surgery as a final treatment option.

Otherwise very healthy, Mary Millard was diagnosed with an aortic aneurism, a ballooning of the body’s main artery that is deadly if it bursts. Mary had surgery to correct the problem, but prior to the procedure suffered cardiac arrest and was put on a form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which bypasses the heart and lungs by using tubes and external machinery to oxygenate the blood. She spent three weeks in the hospital and was about to be discharged when she developed a fever and doctors discovered she had contracted a Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) infection that caused her to go into septic shock.

Doctors explained that the bacterium had attached itself to the artificial parts put into her body during the surgery and formed a biofilm, a very difficult infection to treat. Additionally, the P. aeruginosa is resistant to many standard antibiotics.

Ciprofloxacin was the only oral antibiotic that worked. Mary spent about two months in the hospital recovering.

Mary’s life has changed drastically in the two years since she was infected. She remains on ciprofloxacin and the dosage has been increased several times as the bacteria have grown more resistant, resulting in muscle and joint pain as well as cognitive issues. Ciprofloxacin also causes tendon problems, restricting some of her activities, and has seriously disrupted her digestive system, which has limited what she can eat. The cost of her medicine is prohibitively high and she has applied for disability because she is unable to work due to frequent hospitalizations and physician visits

The worst part is that her antibiotics are merely containing her infection, not curing it. She visits the doctor about every three to six months when she gets a secondary infection resulting from the problems with her digestive system. She also gets her blood cultured once a month to check for signs of the infection flaring up. 

Mary currently takes the maximum dosage of ciprofloxacin and if it stops working, her last resort will be to have surgery. Her doctors say surgery would have 50/50 chance of working due to complexity, after which she will be out of treatment options and would likely die. 

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