Healthy Lifestyle

Graphic warning: Woman recovering after developing flesh-eating disease after fall in water at Island Park

A tale of fortitude and survival unfolds in the wake of a harrowing incident—a fall that plunged Rachelle Winn from Idaho Falls into a life-altering battle. What began as an innocent float trip down Big Springs in Island Park quickly spiraled into a battle against an insidious infection. As her story unfurls, it’s a stark reminder of the fragility of life and the resilience of the human spirit.

Photo credit: The cut on Rachelle Winn’s knee shortly after she fell. | Courtesy Rachelle Winn

The day was marked by the simple joy of a water adventure, a float trip that promised laughter and memories. But fate had other plans. Rachelle Winn, accompanied by her friend and her two dogs, found herself at a crossroads as she disembarked from the water. An unforeseen accident sent her tumbling, the force of which landed her knee on a rock, leaving behind a gash—a seemingly minor injury with profound consequences.

Photo credit: Rachelle Winn’s leg after surgeons had cut out the dead tissue. | Courtesy Rachelle Winn

Amid the idyllic backdrop, the wound’s journey took an ominous turn. The days that followed bore witness to an inexplicable transformation—a progression that defied reason. The injury’s periphery darkened, its contours marred by an unsettling change. An initial misjudgment of a healing scab gave way to a chilling reality—a reality that sent Rachelle into a storm of uncertainty.

Photo credit: Racelle Winn’s leg after the first surgery. | Courtesy Rachelle Winn

Winn recounts the ominous days, “I was laying in bed at home, and it was just hurting and not getting better. It just sort of progressively started getting bigger.” With trepidation mounting, she sought medical attention, leading her to East Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC). It was here that the truth was unveiled—a truth that bore the weight of a horrifying revelation. “That’s really bad. Your flesh is dead on your knee,” the medical professionals disclosed.

The somber words echoed in her ears, marking the emergence of a ruthless foe—necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease. A mere week had transformed a minor injury into a life-threatening affliction. Dr. Tait Olaveson, Rachelle’s surgeon, described the ordeal: “Over about a week timeframe, she basically developed a superinfection. It’s an infection that, lots of times, is associated with water and those types of substances.”

The surgery that followed was a battle against time, against an infection that had gained momentum. The medical team, with precision and determination, removed dead and infected tissue, seeking the spark of life beneath. Olaveson elucidated, “In that group of flesh-eating bacteria…it just kind of continues to snowball. Instead of being a real localized, small infection, it just spreads. It spreads pretty fast. It’s actually a surgical emergency.”

As the surgical theater transformed, hope emerged—a hope forged in resilience and innovative medical practices. Winn’s journey saw her undergo a second surgery, a reconstruction that bridged the gap between devastation and restoration. Dr. Olaveson shared, “Sometimes we use porcine, which means pig derivatives, and we also use bovine (cow) derivatives that have been manufactured and made to help in healing.”

These medical interventions, like scaffolding for the human body, breathe life into damaged tissue. The metaphorical act of rebuilding takes on a profound significance—a testament to the perseverance that defines the human spirit.

Nearly two weeks in the hospital unveiled the strength that resides within. Winn’s release marked a pivotal moment, yet the journey to recovery remains. Skin grafts may punctuate her path to healing, a process that serves as a potent reminder of the battle that has been waged and the triumph that lies ahead.

This ordeal has bestowed upon Rachelle Winn a voice, a rallying cry to raise awareness of the importance of vigilance in the face of adversity. Her heart echoes with empathy for those who could tread this perilous path, for the young and the old, for whom this journey could be all the more traumatic. “People need to know a little better because while I’ve been here, they say this happens quite a bit,” she passionately affirms.

Dr. Olaveson’s wisdom resonates, underscoring the critical need for awareness and proactive measures. ( “If it’s progressing, including redness and fever, (and) it will smell like rotten tissue lots of times,” he advises. Amid the narrative of resilience, a crucial lesson emerges—one of recognition, response, and reaching out to the experts who can intervene before the storm escalates.

The story of Rachelle Winn’s battle against necrotizing fasciitis is a story of courage, of a journey through the valley of the shadow of death and emerging victorious. In her voice, we hear the echoes of the indomitable human spirit, the sanctity of life, and the power of medical innovation. As she stands on the precipice of recovery, she echoes words of gratitude, praise for the EIRMC staff who walked alongside her, the unsung heroes who made her battle a little less daunting. (

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