Kim Oake happy to be home after near-fatal drug reaction
Kim Oake is shown at her Mount Pearl home Friday afternoon with her children daughter Shauna, 11, and son Hunter, 8. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Kim Oake credits a nurse for doing what a team of doctors could not do: diagnose what was causing her unbearable headaches and her blistered and shedding skin.
"My face started to blister, there were big water sacs," Oake says of her early symptoms.
"I was conscious then and I can remember trying to soak it up. It was going up into my hair."
After spending several days at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital with doctors still uncertain about what was happening, Oake was seen by Eastern Health's wound care nurse, Margo Cashin.
"She came in and said, 'It's either Steven Johnson Syndrome or (toxic epidermal necrolysis),'" Oake recalled during an interview at her Mount Pearl home.
Steven Johnson Syndrome is a dermatological condition that is similar to but less serious than toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).
Oake had the more serious of the two. Doctors put her chance of survival at about 30 per cent.
A one-in-a-million condition, TEN is caused by a severe drug reaction.
In Oake's case, that drug was the antibiotic Clavulin.
Oake is an animal control officer with the City of St. John's. She was prescribed Clavulin after being bitten by a feral cat Nov. 17.
She knew something was wrong after she had taken just a few of the pills.
"I went to the hospital, my head was so bad," she said. "They sent me home."
The next day, the pain had become intolerable and she went back to St. Clare's. This time she was admitted.
Roughly three days later, Cashin came up with the correct diagnosis.
Things happened quickly after that. Within an hour, Oake was seen by a dermatologist and transferred to the Health Sciences Centre's intensive care unit, where she was treated like a burn victim. She was placed into a medically induced coma, intubated to keep her airway open, and covered with antibiotic dressings to help ward off infection.
"They were pumping me full of fluids because, at that point, my skin was just falling off … they'd come in and move my fingers so they wouldn't grow together," she recalls.
By the time she started to recover, Oake had shed about 70 per cent of her skin, and her head and eyebrows had been shaved to help prevent infection.
Because of the severity of her condition, her parents - who'd come from Stephenville - and other relatives had to stay outside her room.
Oake says she received superb care. She was released a week before Christmas and has been slowly regaining her strength. She has physiotherapy three times a week and sees physicians regularly.
"My eyesight is a little bit worse, but I'll have that looked at," she said. "I've lost all my toenails and my fingernails are falling off, but my skin is healing nicely. I don't think it will scar, but time will tell."
Oake, a single parent, has several photos of 11-year-old Shauna and eight-year-old Hunter on the walls of her home in Mount Pearl.
She said it was hard on her children when she was in hospital, particularly since they weren't allowed to visit.
"Shauna used to ask a lot of questions, more so than Hunter. He basically looked at it as, 'The crowd is here again and I'm getting McDonald's again for supper,'" Oake says, referring to the support she received from family, friends and the children's father during her illness.
Oake is grateful to everyone who helped out, including the thousands of people who tracked her progress and offered support through a Facebook site set up by her sister, Lisa.
"They signed on as far away as Hong Kong," she says.
Her co-workers, city councillors and her union also provided tremendous support.
An animal lover, Oake is adamant about returning to work.
"It wasn't the cat that caused this, it was the treatment," she said. "And I'll go back to doing what I love doing."
Oake is often asked if she plans on suing the pharmaceutical company that makes Clavulin, but she says right now her focus is on her recovery.
While she's been warned it could be 18 months before she's fully recovered, she's adamant that won't be the case.
"I'm a very strong-willed person. I'm determined. And I'll get back on my feet sooner rather than later. I'm young; I've got two kids and two cats to look after. I've got a lot of living in me yet."