Shernaz Mejos is alive. Given the medical horror show the 49-year-old Rohnert Park mother of two has endured, she’s thankful foremost simply to still be here.
Mejos is grateful as well to know she’ll soon be able to walk again, though she knows her gait will be jarred by the heavy, specialized shoe she’ll wear on what amputation surgery left of her right foot.
She lost also the greater portions of the fingers on her left hand. She has found, though, that with keyboarding and some other tasks, her intact right hand compensates pretty well.
“I try to have a positive attitude,” said Mejos, who’s gentle-natured but resolute and has returned half-time to her job as a loan underwriter with Community First Credit Union. She reflects that she was “a regular gal going about my business” until she became suddenly and horribly ill in early December from a rare case of necrotizing fasciitis.
Potentially fatal, it’s commonly called flesh-eating bacteria. An infection occurs when common bacteria enter the skin through even a tiny cut, insect bite or other opening and begin to produce a toxin that destroys soft tissue. The horrendously painful damage spreads quickly until and unless it is stopped with antibiotics and surgery.
Mejos has no idea how a variant of the bacteria that causes strep throat entered her right side. She was helping out backstage at a Dec. 3 ballet performance that included her younger daughter, Natasha, who’s now 9, when she began to feel sick.
“It was like you were getting the flu or something,” Mejos said. She went after the performance to an urgent-care clinic, where she was told, “You have some kind of infection” and was prescribed antibiotics.
Mejos had intended to attend the following day’s dance perfomance, but that Sunday morning she was much sicker. She told Natasha she was sorry but she needed to just rest.
Mejos’ husband, Frank, and Natasha came home to find her semi-conscious on the couch. Her lips were blue.
An ambulance rushed her to Petaluma Valley Hospital. She was taken into surgery after doctors discovered there was dead tissue just under the skin of her right side, and the damage was spreading downward.
Mejos recalls little from that stage of her crisis but she knows what the doctors did. “They were literally scraping out the dead tissue,” she said.
She was also administered powerful antibiotics. The drugs can’t penetrate fully into damaged tissue, so surgeries are required to cut away dead tissue and get ahead of the advancing infection.
Mejos was so terribly ill that her blood pressure was dropping, forcing the administering of drugs to constrict her blood vessels. That limited the flow of blood to her fingers and toes, putting her at risk of losing them.
After one night at Petaluma Valley Hospital, doctors had Mejos transferred to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and to the care of plastic surgeon Edward Miranda, whose specialties include treatment of necrotizing fasciitis.
“He is a genius, I would say,” Mejos said.
Speaking about her case with her permission, Miranda said the doctors in Petaluma stabilized Mejos and saved her life. Still, she was desperately ill when she arrived in San Francisco.