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What Can Infections Lead To? Doctors Issue Warning

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The story made national headlines -- a college student in Georgia diagnosed with a flesh-eating bacteria that cost her a leg.

It all started when Aimee Copeland got a small cut from a zip line fall. Just three days later, she was fighting a serious infection in the hospital.

A Twin Cities woman is opening up about a similar sickness that almost took her life.

Missy Halvorson is finally back home after an infection put her in a coma and took both of her hands and a leg.

"I guess I wouldn't want people to live their lives scared but I do now," Halvorson said.

There is no easy way to talk about all that's changed for Halvorson. Her tears are still fresh and her pain is palpable. Seven months ago, Halvorson was a happy, healthy young mother.

"I don't remember the days leading up to it but I was told about them," Halvorson said.

On Nov. 7, her daughter called from school after forgetting a homework assignment. After dropping it off, Halvorson pulled out of the parking lot and barely made it a block before pulling over.

Police found her passed out two hours later in her car that was still running.

Halvorson's parents were told to gather her family at the hospital because there was a good chance she wouldn't make it.

"She was on the downhill slide," said Deb Zeilinger, Halvorson's mother.

Doctors discovered a bacteria in her lungs. Hennepin County Medical Center hooked Halvorson up to something used just a few times each year, an Ecmo Machine takes blood from the body so oxygen can be put back in and returned to circulation.
For weeks, doctors didn't know if she'd pull through.

"We just spent every day at the hospital, every day," Halvorson's mom said.

While Halvorson was still in a coma, doctors made a difficult decision -- they needed to take part of her leg and both of her hands. Halvorson didn't find out until finally waking up months later.

"I pretty much, I see it as I fell asleep and I was in a coma and sick and then I woke up two and a half months later without my parts," she said.

Dr. Mark Sprenkle worked on Halvorson's case at Hennepin County Medical Center.

"There's not really a good answer as to why she got it in particular just a case of bad luck and misfortune," Sprenkle said.

Sprenkle believes Halvorson had pneumonia. Her family recalled that she didn't feel well a couple of days before passing out. Sprenkle said the infection started in her lungs and spread to her bloodstream, just like what happened in those headline-making cases of flesh-eating bacteria.

Only then, the bacteria slipped in through a cut. The body's reaction is the same. It goes into survival mode: blood fuels crucial organs first and leaves limbs vulnerable to blood clots and decay.

"One day you're fine and the next day you aren't. You're missing parts and your life has changed," Zeilinger said.

Halvorson has spent the last few months in rehab, learning to control her pain along with getting used to a new way of life.
A life suddenly changed that she still feels grateful to have.

"At least I have a future. I'll be here to raise my daughter," Halvorson said.

Sprenkle said it's never a bad idea to get something checked out by a doctor to stay ahead of infection. He says sometimes just hours can make a difference.

There is a fund set up to help Halvorson in her recovery. You can make a donation under the Michelle Halvorson Fund at any Bremer Bank location.

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