Seemingly simple surgery leaves mom with devastating complicationsAfter Cottage Grove resident Rebecca Eckes learned that getting a hysterectomy might help stop the stomach pains she’d been enduring, she spent a year and a half thinking about whether she really wanted to have the surgery.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
After Cottage Grove resident Rebecca Eckes learned that getting a hysterectomy might help stop the stomach pains she’d been enduring, she spent a year and a half thinking about whether she really wanted to have the surgery.
She asked “doctor after doctor” about the pros and cons of the surgery for her, getting second and third opinions, she said.
Even on the day of the surgery, Jan. 13, she wouldn’t sign the release form until she had talked with the surgeon.
“They already had her laying there, had the IV in and everything, but she still wouldn’t sign the release to actually go into the surgery until she talked to the surgeon one last time,” her husband, Shane Eckes said.
In all her questioning, she never learned that getting a flesh-eating disease was a rare, but possible complication of the surgery.
“Not once did anybody ever tell me that this could happen,” she said.
In the month since the hysterectomy, Rebecca has been through 18 more surgeries due to the bacterial infection, necrotizing fasciitis, which starts in the tissues just below the skin and spreads along the flat layers of tissue. Her bladder is also healing from being torn during the surgery.
Doctors had to cut out parts of her body, including most of her stomach and chunks from both of her upper legs to get rid of the infection, and now her treatment plan is to undergo two or three surgeries per week so doctors can change the dressings on her wound until it has gotten small enough that she can change them herself, she said.
She’ll likely be in the hospital until April or May, doctors have told her, and after that she’ll go through months more of recovery which will include doing physical therapy for the muscles in her legs and her stomach, wearing a machine that pulls drainage out of the wounded area and possibly getting skin grafts.
“The healing process is going to take over — it’s going to be a time-consuming process,” Shane said.
Rebecca went into Woodwinds Hospital for surgery on a Tuesday. Within a day and a half of her surgery, she gained 50 pounds, was bright red and was in a lot of pain, Shane said. The surgeon told them it was superficial, just a side-effect of the surgery and nothing to be alarmed about, he said. But by Saturday, when her condition was still worsening, another doctor said it looked like it could be a staph infection and put her on multiple antibiotics, ibuprofen and a diuretic to get rid of “water weight,” he said. She became worse, and her kidneys weren’t functioning properly, he said.
“I waited a full week, and she wasn’t getting better,” Shane said. “She was getting bigger.”
Insists on move to second hospital
Shane insisted that she be moved to the University of Minnesota Medical Center on Tuesday, a week after her initial surgery. At the University of Minnesota hospital, they changed her care plan, putting her on medicines that were safe for the kidneys and a renal failure diet. Her kidney function was significantly better by the next day and back to normal in two days, she said.
The change in medications revealed that the drugs Eckes had been taking had been masking a fever. In a matter of hours, her temperature went up to 101, and then it went all the way to 103, Shane said.
The fever and a rash she had across her stomach were clues that something else was still wrong in Rebecca’s body. Doctors held off on doing another CT scan on her, because the dye they use for the scan isn’t good for the kidneys, but they decided two days after she was admitted that they needed to do it.
They were right.
“It was in plain sight on the CT scan,” Shane said. “You could see the big pockets of infection. You could just see that something wasn’t right there.”
They figured out that the redness, the fever and the kidneys shutting down had all been signs of the necrotizing fasciitis infection, he said.
Rebecca was rushed to emergency surgery to cut out the infected areas, and has been having regular surgeries to clean out and dress her wounds since then.
Throughout the ordeal Shane has been spending every day in the hospital with Rebecca, taking off from his work as a mechanic at Frank’s University Service, which he co-owns with his father. Shane said starting this week he has to go back to work.
Rebecca used to work the overnight shift at the Harbor Shelter for teenage girls in Hastings, but she was let go from the job Jan. 28 when they found out her recovery would be longer than the three to four weeks she’d planned on, Shane said. She had just earned her associate’s degree in sociology last summer, and saw the job as a stepping stone to something else in her field, he said. The couple said the timing of the job loss was unfortunate for them because Rebecca and their children had health insurance through her employer, but Shane said as a small business owner, he also understands the organization’s inability to hold a job open indefinitely. The doctors have said Rebecca might not be able to work for a year, he said.
Shane brings the couple’s five children, who range in age from 8 to 14 to the hospital every other day during the week and all day Saturday.
Rebecca makes sure that she talks to the kids twice per day on the phone.
“It’s hard on the kids, the younger ones especially,” Shane said.
Before the medical ordeal, the two were typical busy parents. Shane kept busy working and volunteering with the CGAA football program, and Rebecca cared for the kids and took them from place-to-place, especially their daughter Kymberly Larson who is Little Miss Cottage Grove Princess.
Friends and family members have pitched in to help out the family during Rebecca’s hospitalization. Friends’ parents have been taking the children where they need to go; parents of Cottage Grove Royalty and members of the committee have been driving Kymberly to and from events. The mother of one of their sons’ friends has been making meals for the family. The Cottage Grove Royalty is setting up a schedule so that different families in the organization can deliver meals to the Eckes twice per week. Another friend sat with Shane in the hospital waiting room until 4 a.m. the night of Rebecca’s emergency surgery. Cottage Grove Athletic Association board members have been calling Shane to check in. Family members have been visiting regularly and helping out with their kids.
“It’s just been a great community support,” Shane said.
Woodwinds Hospital is reviewing Rebecca’s case, but Woodwinds medical director Dr. Lynn Lillie said she has the “utmost confidence” in the surgeon who performed the hysterectomy.
How to help
- A U.S. Bank account has been set up in Rebecca Eckes name. Donations can be made at any U.S. Bank location.
- The Cottage Grove Royalty Scholarship Program Committee is collecting gas cards and other gift certificates for the family, and providing meals.
For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Hank Long contributed to this report.
Patricia Drey Busse can be reached at email@example.com.