Erin Smythers of Arlington survives flesh-eating bacteria

Erin Smythers of Arlington. Photo: WJLA

An Arlington woman who thought she simply had a cut on her finger, ended up almost dying.

But a local doctor stepped in and not only saved her life, but saved her from losing her arm.

A fourth of patients who get a flesh-eating bacteria infection will die. The ones who survive often endure weeks of surgery, even amputation.

Erin Smythers is an Arlington mom with three young girls, always trying to beat the clock

She felt a terrible pain in her left arm and within two hours had a temperature of 103 degrees.

In the hospital, Smythers watched with deep worry, documenting her infection as it creeped up her arm.

"She was very sick at the time," says Dr. William Furlong, an infectious disease specialist. "We couldn't delay therapy. We had to accelerate using more than one drug."

Furlong's diagnosis was necrotizing fasciitis - flesh eating bacteria - a rapid assault of strep on skin, muscle, bone, and the bloodstream.

"She had a wound in her index finger, almost a papercut," Furlong says. "Essentially the organism uses that as a portal of entry."

Without proper therapy, 25 percent of necrotizing fasciitis patients die, a CDC statistic not lost on Smythers.

The important lessons learned here: Smythers got to the ER quickly, she pushed for an infectious disease consult, she now cleans cuts with hydrogen peroxide, and reminds her friends, too - it's now the signature on every email.