A Maryland woman who contracted the life-threatening flesh-eating bacteria years ago is now a college graduate pursuing a career in the medical field.
“At the time, they didn't think that I would ever be able to walk, let alone walk without a brace, so I made a recovery that even the doctors thought was impossible," Alexis Hanford said.
Hanford was infected on a family trip to California when she was just 15 years old.
“I went off a rope swing and when I fell into the water, I probably fell 14 feet deep into the water, but there was a tree branch cut my leg,” she said.
She went through countless surgeries, spent months recovering in hospitals and even celebrated her 16th birthday there, not knowing if she'd survive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three people with the bacteria dies, even with treatment.
“At any point, if the infection went into my bloodstream, they were going to have to amputate,” Hanford said. “So I would go into surgery not knowing if I’d wake up out of surgery with a leg.”
But she was able to graduate from Whitman High School in Bethesda, where she was homecoming princess, and she just graduated from Drexel University, her experience shaping her studies.
“I think going through this experience kind of gave me more motivation and passion for infectious disease and pretty much anything medical,” she said.
There have been recent cases of flesh-eating bacteria, including a boy who got infected just outside Ocean City.
Hanford said improvements in treatments can help people survive just like she has.
“If you think that you have an infection, just go to the doctor,” she said. “Because I waited five days and if I had waited any longer, they would have amputated immediately.”
While some may fear contracting the bacteria, Hanford doesn’t. She still cliff dives, jet skis and plays sports.
“Actually, putting it aside and not being afraid of what is out there is helpful,” she said.
She described it as a life-changing and life-shaping experience: It's part of her but doesn't define her.
Hanford doesn’t know which direction she is going to take in the medical field, but she knows she wants to help people.