Woman who survived flesh eating bacteria has warning for others

RUSKIN, Fla. (WFLA) – A Ruskin woman is lucky to be alive after a flesh eating infection ravaged her body.

Tracy Penaloza has a warning for others because she feels her nightmare could’ve been avoided if she had simply kept her hands clean.

For most of her life, Penaloza has been a strong, active woman with a big heart for others. Now, she’s just happy to still be here.

“Piece by piece, I got amputated off,” she said.

Her right leg, her foot and her right breast were all amputated after she became infected with “necrotizing fasciitis” or as the CDC calls it, a flesh eating bacteria.

“It’s been really hard. It’s been really hard to see her have to go through this situation,” said friend Joie Preece.

Tracy somehow got exposed to it two years ago and she made one mistake.

“I went across the street to eat some French fries. I didn’t wash my hands…and within 24 hours, I was on life support. I didn’t know who nobody was,” she said.

“Eating the French fries without washing her hands, boom! Caught that disease,” said husband Richard Penaloza.

Soon, Tracy was in a coma. Doctors thought she wouldn’t make it, but she shockingly pulled through.

The CDC says this disease is extremely rare and cases appear randomly. The most common way of getting necrotizing fasciitis is when the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, including:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Burns
  • Insect bites
  • Puncture wounds (including those due to IV drug use)
  • Surgical wounds

Those with a healthy, strong immune system shouldn’t be concerned. But experts say the best way to avoid this bacteria is to properly care for any wounds and practice good hygiene.

Early symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis include:

  • A red or swollen area of skin that spreads quickly
  • Severe pain, including pain beyond the area of the skin that is red or swollen
  • Fever

Most people who get necrotizing fasciitis have other health problems that may lower their body’s ability to fight infection, like diabetes, kidney disease or cancer.

“Always wash your hands, always, always wash your hands, be a germaphobe,” she said.

Her friends will soon be trying to start a fundraiser to buy her a handicap friendly vehicle.