5 On Your Side

Flesh-eating bacteria nearly killed Wake Forest widow robbed during husband's funeral

Posted March 20, 2019 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated March 22, 2019 11:30 a.m. EDT

— It happens to reporters often -- one interview leads to another story that they feel must also be shared.

The last 12 months were hard for Kathleen, who came down with a very rare disease that nearly took her life in Feb. 2018.

In that same year, her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He lost his battle against cancer last month.

5 on Your Side recently interviewed Kathleen and her family, about a thief who broke into their home while she was at her husband's funeral.

The intruder, captured in footage recorded by Kathleen's doorbell camera, was finally identified, but police said that break-ins during funerals, weddings and other events advertised online or in the newspaper are common.

Kathleen's spirit and ability to pull through that incident and another drove WRAL's Monica Laliberte to share her story. A different story.

"I didn't realize I was sick -- I just had no clue," said Kathleen, who was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, the medical term for flesh-eating bacteria, last year.

Kathleen said doctors didn't know how she came in contact with the bacteria, which weakened her immune system.

According to experts, necrotizing fasciitis results in the death of parts of the body's soft tissue. It can be a severe disease that appears suddenly and spreads rapidly, according to experts.

"We went to the hospital and they did emergency surgery right away," Kathleen said. "In about eight days, I had six surgeries in total. I had them back-to-back just to make sure that everything was out of my body."

Kathleen was in a coma, and doctors didn't think she would make it.

"They had called the children to come say good-bye to me," she said.

Then, things began to turn around. Doctors removed Kathleen's tracheotomy and she was breathing on her own.

"When I woke up I couldn't move," Kathleen said. "I couldn't move my arms. I couldn't move my legs. I couldn't sit up, I couldn't do anything. I remember asking the doctor, 'Am I going to be able to do anything?' and he said, 'Can you wiggle your fingers and toes?' and I said yes, and he said eventually I would get better."

Kathleen said doctors didn't think she'd walk again, but after months of rehabilitation, she is back on her feet.

"I'm still learning to walk," she said. "I'm getting better every day. [I know] I had a lot of people praying for me, and I serve a wonderful God. I'm a little bit of a miracle, so I'm happy, I'm happy in that, you know."

Editor's Note: 5 on Your Side elected to not publish Kathleen's last name.