updated 10/27/2006 9:15:13 PM ET 2006-10-28T01:15:13

A teenager who decided to get her breasts pierced for her 18th birthday faces reconstructive surgery after a flesh-destroying infection forced doctors to remove her left breast.

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Stephanie Edington of Crawfordsville remained hospitalized Friday at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, where surgeons also removed lymph nodes and infected skin up to her collar bone.

Dr. Robert Goulet Jr., a professor at the Indiana University Cancer Center, said the piercing created an entry point for the bacteria, but the procedure likely did not cause the infection itself. Edington is diabetic, which left her susceptible to infection, he said.

Doctors diagnosed Edington, who had the piercings on Aug. 29, with necrotizing fasciitis, or gas gangrene — a rare condition that results from rapid bacteria growth and leads to tissue destruction. It is only the third documented case in the world of gas gangrene in the breast area, Goulet told The Paper of Montgomery County.

She was in critical condition by the time she arrived at the hospital Oct. 14, Goulet said.

"By the time she got here, the skin tissue was all pretty much completely dead," he said. "She was a very sick kid when she got here."

Edington is on an aggressive antibiotic regimen and has already undergone three surgeries. She faces several more, including eventual breast reconstruction.

She said she was eager to be discharged but worries about what awaits her.

"I would like to get out, but I am scared of what people are going to be thinking," she said.

Edington's mother, Pamela Osban, said her daughter's illness has shaken their entire family. She worries about her daughter's future.

"You have no idea what it's like to almost lose your daughter and then to make the decision to have one of her breasts removed," she said. "Some people say 'It's just a breast.' They aren't an 18-year old girl. It's devastating for her and for the family."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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