A teenager from Cambodia lost 60% of her face following a number of supposedly routine dental procedures which resulted in an infection from ‘flesh-eating’ bacteria.
18-year-old Suth Ret developed ‘Necrotizing Fasciitis’ after minor procedures to have a tooth removed.
She visited a doctor in December last year complaining of a sinus infection. He suggested she might have a swelling in her sinus pocket and gave her an injection. A few weeks later she wasn’t getting any better, so returned to the same doctor. He decided to remove her nasal pocket, but didn’t prescribe her antibiotics.
A few weeks after that, Ret – now incredibly sick and with a fever – returned again to the same doctor, who removed a tooth.
Having not had her wound treated quickly enough, bacteria that existed in her throat found its way into her bloodstream. And this meant the bacteria began eroding away the skin on the right side of her skull, leaving her with horrifically gruesome wounds. Her skull was showing and it seemed she had ‘no face’.
Necrotizing Fasciitis is a serious bacterial infection which affects the tissue beneath the skin. It is most commonly caused by Group A Streptococci. The bacteria is termed ‘flesh-eating’ because it releases toxins which damage nearby tissue. This infection results in considerable loss of skin and muscle and ultimately leads to death. Early recognition and treatment are crucial to survival.
Yulia Khouri, a Canadian expatriate who lives in the same village as Suth, saw her pictures online, and sought help from international organizations and funds to cover the girl’s medical costs.
Yulia, originally from Toronto, said, “Once I saw her there was nothing else I could do but help. She has been fully aware, fully conscious through all of this but she doesn’t know the extent of the damage to her face.”
Suth’s weight had dropped drastically as she was unable to eat, and she was rushed to hospital weighing only 38kg. A few days later it had dropped to 27kg.
After being rushed to hospital, a German team of facial reconstruction surgeons visited Suth along with a Malaysian expert with over 40 years’ experience in the field. Some of Cambodia’s top facial reconstruction surgeons were also drafted to help rebuild Suth’s face.
Suth is now relatively stable and locals are aiming to raise money to help assist her in her recovery. Doctors are trying to halt the spread of the infection.
This incident serves as a frightening example for all healthcare professionals regarding the consequences of improper wound handling and closure. Stringent sterilization measures and correct wound closure techniques are critical to the lives and well-being of patients, even in a dental chair.