Florida woman dies of flesh-eating bacteria, family says

Even with treatment, up to 1 in 3 people with necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection, according to the CDC.

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By Janelle Griffith

A woman died of a flesh-eating bacteria two weeks after cutting her leg in the waters off Anna Maria Island in Florida, her family says.

Carolyn Fleming — who went by Lynn — of Ellenton, Florida, fell into a small dip in the water at the barrier island's Coquina Beach, about an hour from St. Petersburg, on June 14. The fall left her with a cut on her left leg, according to her son and daughter-in-law, Wade and Traci Fleming, who were with her that day.

The couple and their two children, Jonathan and Jensen, were spending the week with Lynn Fleming after traveling from Pittsburgh, where she is originally from. It had always been her mother-in-law's dream to live in Florida, Traci Fleming said.

"She loved the ocean and she loved walking on the beach," Tracy Fleming told NBC News on Sunday.

Lynn Fleming exited the water June 14 with a three-quarter-inch cut and a bump on her shin, Traci Fleming said, but the severity of the wound dramatically escalated throughout that weekend.

She showed no symptoms that day or the following morning, when her family left. But by that afternoon, she told them she was in pain. On June 16, her leg was red and swollen and her friends forced her to go to an urgent care facility, where she received a tetanus shot and an antibiotic.

On June 17, her left shin was black.

“Her friends found her pretty much unconscious and on her bedroom floor,” Traci Fleming said. “They called an ambulance.”

She was hospitalized that day and diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, an often deadly infection commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria, that spreads quickly, killing the body’s soft tissue. Symptoms include warm skin with red or purplish areas of painful swelling, including beyond the affected area, followed by fever, fatigue and vomiting.

"On top of this, she has suffered from two strokes and has suffered from kidney failure," Traci Fleming wrote in a June 26 post on Facebook, in which she chronicled her mother-in-law's condition. "Her entire body is septic."

Hours later, Lynn Fleming's doctors had called in hospice care.

Lynn Fleming and her grandchildren the day she fell and cut her foot, subsequently contracting the infection that killed her, on June 14.Courtesy of Traci Fleming

Traci Fleming said she and her husband returned to Florida to be with Lynn Fleming in her final days.

"We spent the entire week with her while she was on life support," Traci Fleming said Sunday.

On June 27, Lynn Fleming died after suffering two strokes and organ failure during surgeries to save her leg, Traci Fleming said. She was 77.

"Lynn passed peacefully in her sleep today with Wade holding her hand," Traci Fleming wrote in a Facebook post.

Lynn Fleming's family said they hope that by sharing her story, they can educate beachgoers and save lives.

"It is very ironic that she loved the beach so much and could not wait to retire there," Traci Fleming said. "But it’s also what took her life away."

"It's heartbreaking. We are devastated," she said.

NBC News has not confirmed flesh-eating bacteria as the official cause of death.

Even with treatment, up to 1 in 3 people with necrotizing fasciitis die from the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 700 to 1,100 cases are recorded in the United States each year.

"Accurate diagnosis, rapid antibiotic treatment, and prompt surgery are important to stopping this infection," the CDC says.

Earlier this month, the family of a 12-year-old girl from Indiana said she contracted a flesh-eating bacteria while visiting the beach town of Destin on the Florida Panhandle.

Wade Fleming told NBC News that had his family been aware of the bacteria, Lynn Fleming may still be alive.

"I think that if we had the knowledge prior to this, we would have treated everything different," he said. "My mother would be here, giving you an interview instead of me."