Jan. 20, 2013 — -- A Texas woman is in the intensive care unit of an Austin hospital after a dog bit her and gave her a rare bacterial infection, forcing doctors to amputate her legs and fingers.
Robin Sullins, a dog lover and mother of four, was bitten while intervening in a scuffle between two family dogs on Christmas day, suffering minor cuts on her hand and leg. She was treated at a local emergency room after becoming violently ill, and then transferred to University Medical Center Brackenridge on Dec. 28 as her condition rapidly deteriorated.
Capnocytophaga canimorsus, the bacterium that infected Sullins, is found in the mouths of nearly a third of all healthy cats and dogs, and doctors say it is not usually dangerous.
But Sullins' infection was so severe, doctors needed to amputate both of her legs below the knees, and all of her fingers except her thumb.
"What's clearly happened here is that the bacteria has gotten into the bloodstream," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News. "Once into the bloodstream it has created sepsis, a serious infection which has an effect on all the body's regulatory and inflammatory mechanisms."
Schaffner said the sepsis caused the blood vessels in her legs and hands to close down and clot, necessitating the amputation. He also added that such a severe reaction is more common in people with an underlying illness or some sort of immune deficiency.
"Both of her legs had turned black below the knees," Robin's mother Carol Wilson told ABC News. "Her body was literally dying, her extremities were dying, it's like a horror movie, I can't put it into words."
Robin's family is rallying to her side during this difficult time.
"Everybody is devastated, we are probably more devastated than she even is because she's got the spirit," Wilson said. "Everybody is standing by her, she has not been by herself for one minute."
"We feel very confident that not only will she walk again with prosthesis, but she is going to make the most of what she has."
Dr. Kristen Mondy, who is treating Sullins, said the prognosis for her recovery is fair.
"She is still in a tremendous amount of pain, she is still on dialysis, I think she is potentially facing some more surgeries on her extremities. The prognosis is still favorable for her kidney function to recover," Mondy said.
Mondy also said that usually with amputations, it normally takes weeks to months before the amputated area is sufficiently healed to support prosthesis.
The family has started a website, www.robinsullins.com, to help Sullins raise money to cover her medical expenses. It will offer updates on her progress. Wilson also said her daughter wanted to raise awareness for bite treatments.
"She says, 'I don't want it to happen to anybody else,' she wants the word out that if you do get a bite of any kind, go to the doctor, get an antibiotic, get it checked out," Wilson said.
There are also precautions pet owners can take to help guard against a potential bacterial infection from a bite.
"Do daily oral care, get an animal toothbrush or edible toothbrush, followed by a regular professional cleaning as needed," said Marty Becker, a veterinarian at North Idaho Animal Hospital. "Most people let their pets lick and kiss them. By taking better care of a pet's oral health you are taking care of the human's health by extension."