The Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina is a year-round vacationers’ paradise along the sun-drenched shores of the Atlantic coastline. (iStock)
The account of the episode has the makings of a vacation horror story.
Bonita Fetterman, a grandmother visiting South Carolina’s popular Myrtle Beach with her family last week, was standing on the balcony of their hotel when she cut her leg on a chair, her granddaughter told local NBC-affiliate WMBF. The injury wasn’t serious, so she didn’t seek medical attention, and later went down to the beach.
On Saturday, the family went home to Lumberton, N.C. The grandmother noticed blisters on her leg. By that night, her leg had turned purple, with her blood pressure dropping. Her family took her to Southeastern Hospital.
“If she stayed there, she had like a 10 percent chance of surviving, and they were to amputate her leg,” said the granddaughter, who did not wish to be identified.
Fetterman would soon be airlifted to the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill.
The story starting capturing national attention after Fetterman’s daughter, Marsha Barnes Beal, posted photos to Facebook on Sunday, July 30.
“She was airlifted to Chapel Hill earlier today. She’s now in ICU, heavily sedated, and on a breathing machine,” the post said.
One picture showed a leg below the knee, the bright red skin peeling and blistered down to the ankle. A video captures the moment Fetterman is put on a helicopter to be transported.
“Please remember my Mama, Bonita Fetterman in prayer,” the Facebook post says. “She’s now in ICU, heavily sedated, and on a breathing machine. However, she is stable!”
Beal then pointed out what she said was the cause of Fetterman’s affliction.
“She came in contact with a life threating[sic] flesh eating bacteria after putting her feet in the water at Myrtle Beach!”
As of Tuesday evening, the post had more than 84,000 shares.
Necrotizing fasciitis, commonly called a flesh-eating infection, kills the body’s soft tissue and can be “deadly in a very short amount of time,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 700 to 1,100 cases have occurred each year in the United States since 2010, though there are likely more cases that go unreported. Ways to prevent infection include avoiding natural bodies of water if you have an open wound, the agency says.
Fetterman’s granddaughter told WMBF that a doctor had told her it was flesh-eating bacteria.
Jamie Williams, a spokesman for UNC Medical Center, confirmed that Fetterman is patient at the hospital and said the family requested that information not be released.Beal did not immediately respond to a request for comment through Facebook.
In a statement posted Monday, the city of Myrtle Beach said it was aware of the Facebook post but had no reports of issues at the beach, whose water is tested twice a week during swimming season, according to spokesman Mark Kruea. He said the city has reached out to the family on Facebook but has not received a response.
“This person has a serious medical condition — we aren’t saying there’s no serious medical condition — we just don’t know the what the why or the where attached to it at this point and we need more information.”
The City of Myrtle Beach is aware of a Facebook post that claims bacterial issues along the Grand Strand. We have had…
Some commenters on the city’s statement on Facebook were skeptical.
“Pleease, I feel bad for this lady, but something is wrong here, compromised immune system. Just not adding up. I was in that water daily for the past few weeks.”
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but spokesman Robert Yanity told myrtlebeachonline.com that the agency is aware of the news reports of a potential case of necrotizing fasciitis, adding that, “It’s important to note that this type of condition is not necessarily associated with exposure to natural waters like oceans, lakes or rivers or poor water quality.”
Kruea, the Myrtle Beach spokesman, said there hasn’t been a large number of phone calls from concerned visitors and that if the city knew the location of the alleged point of infection, it could order extra testing of the water.
“We don’t think the water is a factor, but in the absence of additional information I’m not sure what to do at this point.”