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Knoxville woman almost loses arm from flesh-eating bacteria; blames nail salon

Cases of necrotizing fasciitis are rare, but one woman is still recovering from the bacteria months after contracting it. She blames a nail salon.

FARRAGUT, Tenn. — A Knoxville woman is still regaining feeling in her hands after multiple surgeries to stop a flesh-eating bacteria.

Jayne Sharp said she contracted it after she was cut at a local nail salon. She is a mother, grandmother and a retired dental hygienist.

"I entertain all the time, I play cards," she said.

Those things are a little harder to do now.

"I can't shuffle cards when I play bridge," she said.

For a while, Sharp could barely use her right hand.

"I couldn't even floss my own teeth," she said.

Earlier this spring, Sharp wasn't sure she'd still be alive to tell the story of how a cut turned into much more.

RELATED: Health officials: 'Flesh-eating' infections are extremely rare

It started, she said, with a manicure at Jazzy Nail Bar in Turkey Creek.

"While I was there I got stuck on my thumb and I went 'ouch' but I went back to looking at my telephone," said Sharp.

Flesh-eating bacteria can exist anywhere and generally infects people through a break in the skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. The skin can be broken by cuts, scrapes, burns and bug bites.

While there is no way to say with complete certainty where the bacteria originated, Sharp said the symptoms started soon after the cut at the salon.

Later that day her thumb started throbbing, and then she couldn't sleep she felt so sick.

Credit: Jayne Sharp
Sharp's swollen thumb

Sharp thought she'd come down with the flu. Her daughter is a nurse, and told her to go to the doctor the next day.

She saw nurse practitioner Nikki Brown with Summit Medical Group.

"[She said] the flu test came back negative, and I think you might be getting these symptoms from your thumb," Sharp said.

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Brown drew a line around Sharp's thumb that had started to swell and told her to keep an eye on it.

Sharp was exhausted from not sleeping the night before and went home to nap, only to be woken up by a call from Brown checking on her.

Credit: Jayne Sharp
Sharp's swollen hand

At that time, her swelling had gone up her arm. Brown told her to get to the emergency room immediately.

"[The doctor told my daughter] your mother could lose her life with what we think this is and there's a likelihood she will lose her arm," said Sharp.

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It was necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria.

"Basically you have a break in the skin and this bacteria gets introduced under the skin into the soft tissue and then into the blood stream," said Dr. Udit Chaudhuri, and internal medicine specialist with Summit Medical Group.

Credit: Jayne Sharp
Sharp's infected thumb

He is Sharp's doctor through this process, and Brown is his nurse practitioner.

"She could have lost her finger or her arm if she hadn't been diagnosed properly," said Chaudhuri.

He and Sharp both credit Brown with saving Sharp's life. Chaudhuri said she acted fast in realizing what Sharp was suffering from.

Sharp never thought something like this could come from a cut during a manicure.

"I had never heard of such a thing when they told me flesh eating bacteria," she said.

Credit: Jayne Sharp
Sharp's thumb post-surgery

Necrotizing fasciitis can be caught anywhere so long as there's an open wound for it to enter.

Chaudhuri said it's very rare for someone to contract this flesh-eating bacteria. He hasn't seen many cases of it in his career.

RELATED: Woman dies after contracting flesh-eating bacteria at Florida beach

But people with compromised immune systems are more likely to contract it. Sharp falls in that category.

"She is a diabetic so that made her more susceptible," said Chaudhuri.

Sharp is gaining feeling back in her hand. A chunk of her right thumb is missing, but she didn't have to lose a limb.

Credit: Jayne Sharp
Sharp's infected thumb next to her uninfected thumb

Even then, she still has a long way to go.

"My life took a total turn when this happened to me," said Sharp.

A manager at Jazzy Nail Bar said they had a state inspection days after Sharp reported this and they passed with no issues.

He said they clean their tools the way the state mandates.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) inspects salons annually for sanitation practices. The inspections are also done whenever a complaint is filed.  TDCI spokesperson Kevin Walters said no problems were found at Jazzy Nail Bar during the annual inspection as well as a follow-up inspection after receiving a complaint about this incident.


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