A woman had to have her leg amputated at the hip after she contracted a flesh-eating bug from an infected mosquito bite.
But remarkably Jodie Francis said – despite not having a leg – she "finally feels whole".
The 44-year-old told how she was taking down Halloween decorations in late 2012 when she began getting pains in her left leg.
"It was a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy hit", said Francis, of Edison, New Jersey.
"I was up and down my ladder getting down the Halloween décor, cleaning my gutter and bagging all of the pine needles and I started getting pains in my left leg, like I’d badly pulled a muscle."
The pain got so bad that a few days later she could not walk and her boss at the events management company where she worked sent her home.
Francis continued: "The following day I spiked a really high temperature. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or even find a position which lessened the pain.
"By the time my husband Henry, now 43, came home at 11.30pm, I said ‘I feel horrible. I think I need to go to hospital’.
"My niece Brianna and nephew Joey were staying with us at the time – we had power and they didn’t due to the storm – so Henry stayed with them."
Juvenile corrections officer Francis was taken to Robert Wood Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hours later a rash started developing.
"Suddenly I looked down at my arms and they were covered in hives," she continued. "I mean, hives on hives – I couldn’t see any unaffected skin.
"The last thing I remember was doctors saying my blood pressure had dropped dangerously low.
"I was put on a ventilator, which I ripped out – though I don’t recall this – and they had to put it back in."
A doctor noticed a black mark on Francis’ leg and drew around it with a marker. Within 30 minutes, he checked it and the mark had spread.
On the morning of 5 November 2012 she was rushed to surgery, unaware of what was about to happen.
When surgeons opened up Francis’ leg to check the damage, they discovered she had necrotising fasciitis.
"Apparently looking into my leg was like looking at a pool of dirty dishwater," she said.
"There was nothing left in there. I had contracted necrotising fasciitis – and it was taking over my whole body. My kidneys had shut down, my liver was on its way out and my BP was down to 60.
"They were forced to amputate my leg at the hip, to save my life. If they hadn’t I’d have died, simple as that.
"My mother and other relatives were waiting in a corridor for some news. When a surgeon told her, her daughter had just lost her leg at the hip, she says she screamed at the top of her voice.
"They had to take the whole group into a side-room to try and calm them down and explain more."
Flesh-eating disease, as the bacterial infection is also known, can be transmitted through the skin via a cut or wound. Eating through muscle tissue and fat, mostly in the arms and legs, it is fatal in 40-60% of cases.
She was placed a medically-induced coma, during which time doctors and nurses would pass her bed and express their surprise that she was still alive.
The medical team wanted to move her to the intensive care unit as they decided she was stable, but nurses advised Francis’ husband not to let them as they did not think she was ready.
"That day, Henry and our friends took it in shifts to stand in the doorway and refuse to let them move me," she said.
"On the same day, my femoral artery ruptured, and a nurse just happened to walk into the room, see what was going on and rushed me back to surgery."
There was a cardiac surgeon on the same floor that had been performing another emergency surgery was able to stop and save Francis’ life a second time.
“Had I been moved to medical ICU floor, I would have bled out in the lift on the way down,” she said. “I had a total of eight surgeries after that to make sure they cleaned the wound out."
When Francis was brought of the coma 11 days later, she had no idea she was missing a leg. Two days later, a consultant came to check on her.
"I was still very groggy and didn’t really know what was going on at all,” she said. "The doctor walked towards my bed, and when I looked at his glasses, I could see my reflection – and the stump where one of my legs should have been."
"I screamed out loud with the shock. I was like, okay…. Then my sister, husband came in. Jeanette, 42, said ‘Jodie, your leg doesn’t define you – you define you."
Francis spent a month in hospital, followed by in-patient rehab for two months, learning how to walk again with a crutch.
She started outpatient physical therapy in March 2013, received her first prosthetic that May, and became a volunteer at a rehabilitation hospital, so she could help other amputees.
Currently on her third prosthetic, Francis does not dwell on what happened.
"As horrible as this is, I don’t feel its worst thing ever happened to me," she said.
"That was losing my father, aged 13. He fell overboard while working on an oil rig, and drowned. I found inner strength I never knew I had.
"I set goals now I never did before. I’ve been blind in my right eye since birth, have never driven a car and now I’m determined to get my driving licence."
She has also taken up golf, wants to ride horses again and would love to go rock-climbing.
"I never had the ‘why me?’ moment. I defied so many odds.
"Now I have three mantras: it's okay to mourn your former life, just have the courage and strength to embrace your new reality – this can happen to anyone, at any time; it took me losing my leg to become a whole person and lastly, my amputation doesn't bother me… why should it bother you?"