A joyful homecoming

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Carlisle's Denise Coulen was one busy lady. She'd raised five kids and ran her own thriving dance studio. So when she came down with a sore throat, she put on the tea, picked up some cough lozenges, and kept on moving.

"As a mom, I think we don't take the time to be sick ourselves," she said. But not taking that time almost cost Coulen her life. That pesky little sore throat was the beginning of necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh eating disease.

"I turned 50 in December. I've raised five kids. I would have never, never guessed this was even possible," she said.

Flesh eating disease is caused by the same bacteria that cause strep throat, which is how Coulen's infection began. From there, it entered her bloodstream, and settled into an injury. In her case, it was an arthritic knee.

The diagnosis was slow in coming. Coulen didn't seek medical help until a week later, when she was forced to call in sick with what she assumed was a flu following the sore throat. Her daughter, after all, had just recovered from the flu herself.

But this one came with a strange pain in her left leg. "I can't describe it. It was like nothing I've ever felt before. It was just...strange," she said.

With no obvious cause for the pain, Coulen was sent home from the emergency room with Tylenol 3's and a pair of crutches.

"I don't even remember the next three days. My body was going into shock," she said. "People came to see me, but I have no recollection. My family filled me in on what happened after that."

In those three days, Coulen lost 15 pounds. She ran a fever, and couldn't keep food down. One frantic night, her daughters were so concerned, they called an ambulance.

"I still waited for three hours in emergency," Coulen said. Then a nurse spotted her eyes rolling back into her head and alerted the doctors, who rushed Coulen to McMaster's ICU. That's when they noticed that her left foot was turning black.

Within hours, Coulen developed blisters on her left knee, and her kidneys shut down. A quick blood test confirmed the doctor's suspicions. She was put on dialysis while 14 IVs pumped fluid and antibiotics into her system. Surgery was scheduled for just hours later.

"She had IVs everywhere," said Coulen's daughter, Alysia, 19. Coulen was pumped full of 17 litres of fluid, to protect her organs in case they failed. It caused her to swell so severely, she wasn't recognizable.

"I had no features on my face," she said. "It was just flat."

It was an indication of just how serious the infection had become in just a few days.

"If my daughters hadn't called the ambulance when they did, I would have died that night," said Coulen.

And she almost did. The infection was invasive and fast-moving. It was already beginning to affect her organs.

The prognosis wasn't good: Coulen was given a 20 per cent chance of survival; if she lived through the ordeal there was a 90 per cent chance that her leg would have to be amputated.

But today, four months later, after 117 days in the hospital, both legs are intact.

"It's not pretty, but at least I have a leg," said Coulen.

The surgery was a miraculous success, noted her husband, Al.

"The doctor told me it was a miracle she's alive," he said. "He said all they can do is what they're taught to. The rest comes from someone else."

Surgery was just the first phase of Coulen's fight against the disease. Just two hours after the good news that her leg had been saved, the surgeon reported that a pulse couldn't be found and the leg appeared dead, and might have to be removed after all.

In a last-ditch effort to save the limb, a nurse probed Coulen's swollen leg, searching for signs of blood flow. It took four hours, but she found a pulse.

But just when things were looking up, complications of the disease, including atrophy, set in.

The disease caused all of Coulen's muscles to shut down. For almost four weeks, her body was paralyzed.

"I had to relearn how to use my fingers," said Coulen.

"It was so hard, emotionally. Whenever I thought things were getting better, something else would happen."

What pulled her through were faith, friends and family. Her husband was given a room at the hospital, so he could stay by his wife's side. And once the nurses noticed the Coulens' daughters, Alysia and Ashley, setting up a camp in the family lounge, they were given a room, too.

"The girls lived at the hospital," said Al.

That left three grown sons feeling relatively helpless. That is, until they found a renovation wish list in mom's office. During her four-month stay at the hospital, they, along with the girls' boyfriends, tackled the list, installing a fence, painting the kitchen, installing new lighting and retiling bathrooms.

"Her favourite show is Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, so this was her extreme makeover. It was all a surprise for when she came home," said Al. "I was just amazed. They did it all. I never lifted a finger."

Friends and neighbours also provided support. "People who knew would come to drop off casseroles," said Al. "And she got some pretty wonderful letters from her (dance) kids. It really meant a lot to us.

But the support that meant the most to Denise came from her father.

After he passed away, four years ago, the family headed to the cottage to regroup. While they were sitting outside, an unusually large butterfly landed on a nearby rock. It stayed so long, a relative commented, "That must be Dad."

Al was skeptical, saying that it would have to do something more spectacular to convince him. And just then, the butterfly circled Al's head, and fluttered around the entire family. Even Al was convinced.

Four years later, bouquets and gifts were piling up in Denise's hospital room. And on every gift, whether on the card, or a sticker, or in the arrangement, without exception, was a butterfly.

During Coulen's recovery at Henderson Hospital, she and Al were walking down the hospital corridor, when an elderly patient approached them.

"She said, 'You have a butterfly on one shoulder, and a guardian angel on the other,'" recalled Denise. "I was shocked. It gave us goosebumps. Of all the things for a stranger to say. But it made me feel really good."

Coulen is home now. She hopes others can learn from her experience, by being more vigilant about sore throats and open wounds - another common portal for the bacteria.

"Get the swab," she stressed. "And if you have a cut, keep it covered."

Niese's dance studio is now closed. Coulen is prepared for the years of physiotherapy ahead of her and hopes one day to walk without a walker or a cane. But she's happy that she is alive, and has come home.

And so is her family.

"All of my prayers have been answered," said Al. "Her coming home was the happiest day of my life."

A joyful homecoming

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Carlisle's Denise Coulen was one busy lady. She'd raised five kids and ran her own thriving dance studio. So when she came down with a sore throat, she put on the tea, picked up some cough lozenges, and kept on moving.

"As a mom, I think we don't take the time to be sick ourselves," she said. But not taking that time almost cost Coulen her life. That pesky little sore throat was the beginning of necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh eating disease.

"I turned 50 in December. I've raised five kids. I would have never, never guessed this was even possible," she said.

Flesh eating disease is caused by the same bacteria that cause strep throat, which is how Coulen's infection began. From there, it entered her bloodstream, and settled into an injury. In her case, it was an arthritic knee.

The diagnosis was slow in coming. Coulen didn't seek medical help until a week later, when she was forced to call in sick with what she assumed was a flu following the sore throat. Her daughter, after all, had just recovered from the flu herself.

But this one came with a strange pain in her left leg. "I can't describe it. It was like nothing I've ever felt before. It was just...strange," she said.

With no obvious cause for the pain, Coulen was sent home from the emergency room with Tylenol 3's and a pair of crutches.

"I don't even remember the next three days. My body was going into shock," she said. "People came to see me, but I have no recollection. My family filled me in on what happened after that."

In those three days, Coulen lost 15 pounds. She ran a fever, and couldn't keep food down. One frantic night, her daughters were so concerned, they called an ambulance.

"I still waited for three hours in emergency," Coulen said. Then a nurse spotted her eyes rolling back into her head and alerted the doctors, who rushed Coulen to McMaster's ICU. That's when they noticed that her left foot was turning black.

Within hours, Coulen developed blisters on her left knee, and her kidneys shut down. A quick blood test confirmed the doctor's suspicions. She was put on dialysis while 14 IVs pumped fluid and antibiotics into her system. Surgery was scheduled for just hours later.

"She had IVs everywhere," said Coulen's daughter, Alysia, 19. Coulen was pumped full of 17 litres of fluid, to protect her organs in case they failed. It caused her to swell so severely, she wasn't recognizable.

"I had no features on my face," she said. "It was just flat."

It was an indication of just how serious the infection had become in just a few days.

"If my daughters hadn't called the ambulance when they did, I would have died that night," said Coulen.

And she almost did. The infection was invasive and fast-moving. It was already beginning to affect her organs.

The prognosis wasn't good: Coulen was given a 20 per cent chance of survival; if she lived through the ordeal there was a 90 per cent chance that her leg would have to be amputated.

But today, four months later, after 117 days in the hospital, both legs are intact.

"It's not pretty, but at least I have a leg," said Coulen.

The surgery was a miraculous success, noted her husband, Al.

"The doctor told me it was a miracle she's alive," he said. "He said all they can do is what they're taught to. The rest comes from someone else."

Surgery was just the first phase of Coulen's fight against the disease. Just two hours after the good news that her leg had been saved, the surgeon reported that a pulse couldn't be found and the leg appeared dead, and might have to be removed after all.

In a last-ditch effort to save the limb, a nurse probed Coulen's swollen leg, searching for signs of blood flow. It took four hours, but she found a pulse.

But just when things were looking up, complications of the disease, including atrophy, set in.

The disease caused all of Coulen's muscles to shut down. For almost four weeks, her body was paralyzed.

"I had to relearn how to use my fingers," said Coulen.

"It was so hard, emotionally. Whenever I thought things were getting better, something else would happen."

What pulled her through were faith, friends and family. Her husband was given a room at the hospital, so he could stay by his wife's side. And once the nurses noticed the Coulens' daughters, Alysia and Ashley, setting up a camp in the family lounge, they were given a room, too.

"The girls lived at the hospital," said Al.

That left three grown sons feeling relatively helpless. That is, until they found a renovation wish list in mom's office. During her four-month stay at the hospital, they, along with the girls' boyfriends, tackled the list, installing a fence, painting the kitchen, installing new lighting and retiling bathrooms.

"Her favourite show is Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, so this was her extreme makeover. It was all a surprise for when she came home," said Al. "I was just amazed. They did it all. I never lifted a finger."

Friends and neighbours also provided support. "People who knew would come to drop off casseroles," said Al. "And she got some pretty wonderful letters from her (dance) kids. It really meant a lot to us.

But the support that meant the most to Denise came from her father.

After he passed away, four years ago, the family headed to the cottage to regroup. While they were sitting outside, an unusually large butterfly landed on a nearby rock. It stayed so long, a relative commented, "That must be Dad."

Al was skeptical, saying that it would have to do something more spectacular to convince him. And just then, the butterfly circled Al's head, and fluttered around the entire family. Even Al was convinced.

Four years later, bouquets and gifts were piling up in Denise's hospital room. And on every gift, whether on the card, or a sticker, or in the arrangement, without exception, was a butterfly.

During Coulen's recovery at Henderson Hospital, she and Al were walking down the hospital corridor, when an elderly patient approached them.

"She said, 'You have a butterfly on one shoulder, and a guardian angel on the other,'" recalled Denise. "I was shocked. It gave us goosebumps. Of all the things for a stranger to say. But it made me feel really good."

Coulen is home now. She hopes others can learn from her experience, by being more vigilant about sore throats and open wounds - another common portal for the bacteria.

"Get the swab," she stressed. "And if you have a cut, keep it covered."

Niese's dance studio is now closed. Coulen is prepared for the years of physiotherapy ahead of her and hopes one day to walk without a walker or a cane. But she's happy that she is alive, and has come home.

And so is her family.

"All of my prayers have been answered," said Al. "Her coming home was the happiest day of my life."

A joyful homecoming

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

Carlisle's Denise Coulen was one busy lady. She'd raised five kids and ran her own thriving dance studio. So when she came down with a sore throat, she put on the tea, picked up some cough lozenges, and kept on moving.

"As a mom, I think we don't take the time to be sick ourselves," she said. But not taking that time almost cost Coulen her life. That pesky little sore throat was the beginning of necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh eating disease.

"I turned 50 in December. I've raised five kids. I would have never, never guessed this was even possible," she said.

Flesh eating disease is caused by the same bacteria that cause strep throat, which is how Coulen's infection began. From there, it entered her bloodstream, and settled into an injury. In her case, it was an arthritic knee.

The diagnosis was slow in coming. Coulen didn't seek medical help until a week later, when she was forced to call in sick with what she assumed was a flu following the sore throat. Her daughter, after all, had just recovered from the flu herself.

But this one came with a strange pain in her left leg. "I can't describe it. It was like nothing I've ever felt before. It was just...strange," she said.

With no obvious cause for the pain, Coulen was sent home from the emergency room with Tylenol 3's and a pair of crutches.

"I don't even remember the next three days. My body was going into shock," she said. "People came to see me, but I have no recollection. My family filled me in on what happened after that."

In those three days, Coulen lost 15 pounds. She ran a fever, and couldn't keep food down. One frantic night, her daughters were so concerned, they called an ambulance.

"I still waited for three hours in emergency," Coulen said. Then a nurse spotted her eyes rolling back into her head and alerted the doctors, who rushed Coulen to McMaster's ICU. That's when they noticed that her left foot was turning black.

Within hours, Coulen developed blisters on her left knee, and her kidneys shut down. A quick blood test confirmed the doctor's suspicions. She was put on dialysis while 14 IVs pumped fluid and antibiotics into her system. Surgery was scheduled for just hours later.

"She had IVs everywhere," said Coulen's daughter, Alysia, 19. Coulen was pumped full of 17 litres of fluid, to protect her organs in case they failed. It caused her to swell so severely, she wasn't recognizable.

"I had no features on my face," she said. "It was just flat."

It was an indication of just how serious the infection had become in just a few days.

"If my daughters hadn't called the ambulance when they did, I would have died that night," said Coulen.

And she almost did. The infection was invasive and fast-moving. It was already beginning to affect her organs.

The prognosis wasn't good: Coulen was given a 20 per cent chance of survival; if she lived through the ordeal there was a 90 per cent chance that her leg would have to be amputated.

But today, four months later, after 117 days in the hospital, both legs are intact.

"It's not pretty, but at least I have a leg," said Coulen.

The surgery was a miraculous success, noted her husband, Al.

"The doctor told me it was a miracle she's alive," he said. "He said all they can do is what they're taught to. The rest comes from someone else."

Surgery was just the first phase of Coulen's fight against the disease. Just two hours after the good news that her leg had been saved, the surgeon reported that a pulse couldn't be found and the leg appeared dead, and might have to be removed after all.

In a last-ditch effort to save the limb, a nurse probed Coulen's swollen leg, searching for signs of blood flow. It took four hours, but she found a pulse.

But just when things were looking up, complications of the disease, including atrophy, set in.

The disease caused all of Coulen's muscles to shut down. For almost four weeks, her body was paralyzed.

"I had to relearn how to use my fingers," said Coulen.

"It was so hard, emotionally. Whenever I thought things were getting better, something else would happen."

What pulled her through were faith, friends and family. Her husband was given a room at the hospital, so he could stay by his wife's side. And once the nurses noticed the Coulens' daughters, Alysia and Ashley, setting up a camp in the family lounge, they were given a room, too.

"The girls lived at the hospital," said Al.

That left three grown sons feeling relatively helpless. That is, until they found a renovation wish list in mom's office. During her four-month stay at the hospital, they, along with the girls' boyfriends, tackled the list, installing a fence, painting the kitchen, installing new lighting and retiling bathrooms.

"Her favourite show is Extreme Makeover, Home Edition, so this was her extreme makeover. It was all a surprise for when she came home," said Al. "I was just amazed. They did it all. I never lifted a finger."

Friends and neighbours also provided support. "People who knew would come to drop off casseroles," said Al. "And she got some pretty wonderful letters from her (dance) kids. It really meant a lot to us.

But the support that meant the most to Denise came from her father.

After he passed away, four years ago, the family headed to the cottage to regroup. While they were sitting outside, an unusually large butterfly landed on a nearby rock. It stayed so long, a relative commented, "That must be Dad."

Al was skeptical, saying that it would have to do something more spectacular to convince him. And just then, the butterfly circled Al's head, and fluttered around the entire family. Even Al was convinced.

Four years later, bouquets and gifts were piling up in Denise's hospital room. And on every gift, whether on the card, or a sticker, or in the arrangement, without exception, was a butterfly.

During Coulen's recovery at Henderson Hospital, she and Al were walking down the hospital corridor, when an elderly patient approached them.

"She said, 'You have a butterfly on one shoulder, and a guardian angel on the other,'" recalled Denise. "I was shocked. It gave us goosebumps. Of all the things for a stranger to say. But it made me feel really good."

Coulen is home now. She hopes others can learn from her experience, by being more vigilant about sore throats and open wounds - another common portal for the bacteria.

"Get the swab," she stressed. "And if you have a cut, keep it covered."

Niese's dance studio is now closed. Coulen is prepared for the years of physiotherapy ahead of her and hopes one day to walk without a walker or a cane. But she's happy that she is alive, and has come home.

And so is her family.

"All of my prayers have been answered," said Al. "Her coming home was the happiest day of my life."