Anthrax Survivor: One Woman's Startling Story

Carrie Ginder wants to let everyone know that someone infected with anthrax can survive, because she did. But that's not what the doctors who treated her thought would happen when she was diagnosed with it in 1973. They told her that she only had hours to live.

Ginder lives in Biloxi, Mississippi. She is now 49, but was a 22-year-old journalist in the Navy when she was infected with anthrax at the end of 1973 after being in Haiti. She was stationed aboard the USS Sanctuary, a hospital ship. At the time, the ship was moving from San Francisco to a new home port in Mayport, Florida. It was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for 30 days on a goodwill mission before it went to Mayport.

"We had a full medical staff and they treated a lot of indigent [local people]," she says. "Anthrax then was at epidemic proportions in Haiti. I don't know why. Being a journalist, I never came in contact with any of those cases, but I did buy souvenirs. I bought bongos made of goat hide and ponchos made of sheep wool to send to my family and friends for Christmas."

She said that the ship arrived in Mayport, Florida, on December 14, 1973, and on the 22nd and 23rd she started wrapping the bongo drums and sending them off for Christmas gifts.

"On the 28th, I believe, my left eye started swelling and I went to the dispensary on the base," says Ginder. "The doctor diagnosed me with conjunctivitis and told me to put ice packs on it."

Before going home, she just happened to see a friend who was one of the medical people on the ship. "I ran into Mike Goble, a friend of mine, who was a hospital corpsman and who had treated some of the patients in Haiti," she says. He said you have anthrax. After that, she went home and he went to see her doctor.

"They brought me back in and they did a biopsy and it came back positive for anthrax. They notified the health department of the areas where I had sent the bongos," she says. "They had all contracted anthrax."

Ginder says that what she finds amazing is that out of more than 500 people who were on the ship, she was the only one who came down with anthrax.

By the time she was hospitalized, doctors thought she only had several hours to live and they notified her family. She said that at that time they thought anthrax was contagious and they were afraid to go near her. Everyone who approached her had to wear gloves, a gown, and a face mask. She said that her fiance was the only one who was willing to go near her without any protection. He figured that he had been around her a lot and nothing had happened.

She said her head was swollen and so big that she had no neck. "My head was so huge, it cut off my airway. They said, 'You are going to die one way or another, so we might as well treat you with massive doses of penicillin and steroids,'" she recalls.

"Where they did the biopsy on my eye, it turned [into] a black crust," she says. "I wore a patch for 2 or 3 months."

Ginder hopes her story will calm the public's fears about anthrax. But she said that if it had gone inside her nose or if she had inhaled the anthrax, she wouldn't be here today. "I didn't touch the spores," she said. "For some reason they embedded in my eye. I had 12 doctors from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] treat me and none of them could believe it. As a result of my case, they have made it illegal to bring in any animal hides from Haiti or any other country. The animal hides from which they made the drums had anthrax."

Ginder said that she was in extreme pain and that she was in a coma for 2 or 3 weeks after she was hospitalized. She said that the only painful thing she can compare it to is childbirth. She said that the skin on her head was stretched so tight that she felt it was going to burst. She also had flu-like symptoms with aching joints and a fever of 101 degrees. The pain was all in her face, particularly in her left eye.

Ginder said that she's a Christian and she believes that maybe God let her survive having anthrax to help others.

According to the CDC, from January 1955 to December 1999, there have been 236 reported cases of cutaneous anthrax, the most treatable kind, in the US. Those cases were in 30 states and Washington, DC. Before the recently deadly case of inhaled anthrax in Florida, the last case of anthrax inhalation was in 1978 in California. And the last case of cutaneous anthrax prior to this year was in North Dakota last year. Before then, the last case cutaneous case was in 1992.

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