WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES. Vicky Doxat lost her left breast to a deadly strain of Necrotising Mastitis months after the birth of her twins
There are six known cases of Necrotising Mastitis worldwide, meaning that not only have you probably never heard of it, but you’re more likely to be hit by lightning twice than experience it.
Vicky Doxat, however, is one such person.
The mum of three was taken to the brink of death by the extremely rare condition – where the breast tissue essentially dies.
It was an experience which caused her to miss a lot of her twins’ babyhood, and has since altered her body and re-shaped her outlook on life.
In the three years since she initially started to feel the telltale symptoms of mastitis, Vicky, 38, has had ten operations and still has one more to go. Three of these procedures were life-saving.
It’s with candour and humour, though, that she has detailed her experience on her blog, Jelly Nightmares , and to MirrorOnline.
In 2016 Vicky, from Petersfield, was getting to grips with being a mum to baby twins and her toddler son.
She’d been happily exclusively breastfeeding the twins when, at seven months, the first flu-like symptoms of mastitis occurred.
Having had mastitis with her son, Vicky wasn’t too concerned, explaining “it had sorted itself out after a couple of days of antibiotics”.
The symptoms appeared on the Thursday. Vicky began to feel increasingly unwell during a day out, but managed to still feed the twins when back home.
However, the pain escalated over night and the antibiotics she was prescribed the next day were doing nothing for her.
Not only that, but she could no longer feed from her left breast, and situation was becoming increasingly serious.
“Fast forward to Saturday and the pain from my left breast was now unbearable – my breast was not only swollen and sore but had turned scarlet.”
It was time to go to the hospital, where it was agreed that Vicky, a teacher, should allow the antibiotics to run their course and she was given some stronger painkillers and sent on her way.
“By this time my left breast was very red and inflamed and a small black bruise was visible. Everyone assumed that I had caused the bruising when I had tried to express milk and there was no undue concern at this point.”
By Monday morning the pain was so bad Vicky admits she was “wishing I was dead” and it was becoming clear to her that this was not a case of mastitis.
Her breast was twice its normal size and the black bruise was spreading.
A second visit to hospital in the same day highlighted how grave the situation was becoming. Vicky could hardly speak and was feeling very sleepy “which is VERY unusual for me”, she jokes.
“I was rushed straight through A&E and into the medical assessment unit where I was immediately seen by a breast consultant, placed on an IV drip and admitted to my own private room.”
Despite the medical attention she was now getting, Vicky’s condition continued to deteriorate.
Almost comatose, Vicky could not sit up, eat or talk and her breast was now completely black.
After three days in a private room, she was initially diagnosed with Necrotising Fasciitis – “don’t Google it if you’re squeamish!” she adds.
However, the reality of her condition was bleak: Vicky had been moved to Intensive Care, her private room had to be cordoned off and swabbed clean and only her mum and husband could visit – in gowns for their own safety.
There was even a biohazard sign outside the ward.
Vicky’s ordeal continued. The infection had spread further – now her entire torso was bright red and she was on a strong mixture of medication which included morphine.
“It was pretty much touch and go at this point I think,” she says. Eventually her diagnosis was updated to Necrotising Mastitis, which because of its rarity meant Vicky quickly became something of a celebrity patient.
When it came to Vicky having the first of her life-saving operations, there was a particularly bittersweet obstacle to overcome: At the time of getting ill, Vicky had been breastfeeding her babies.
This meant she had to take a hormone to stop lactation so she could be safely operated on (otherwise the site of the wound would have been too wet and upped the risk of cross infection).
“I would have liked to have continued to breastfeed,” Vicky tells MirrorOnline, “In the end my mum had to wean them onto formula.”
Despite generally being a positive and upbeat person, Vicky reveals the effects of the hormone left her feeling “very low and depressed. I couldn’t stop crying.”
This, combined with the fact she could not see her children – as well as feeling that the decision to stop breastfeeding had been taken away – lead to it being a very low time for her.
The mastectomy of her left breast was successful, and Vicky acknowledges, “I was very, very lucky that I didn’t lose both breasts.”
Two more life-saving operations followed, with Vicky spending another two weeks in ICU.
Four weeks after being hospitalised, she was eventually reunited with her children.
“When I did see them again I was covered in bandages and in lots of pain. I couldn’t pick them up or cuddle them – it was really emotional.
“I cried a lot. It made me realise how luck I was to be alive. I felt overwhelming love and relief.”
As for what caused her to be ravaged by such a rare condition, Vicky explains that it was a combination of factors, one of which was being a tired new mum.
With this in mind, she cautions others to “look after yourselves! Much easier said than done I know!
“Say yes to everyone who offers to help- don’t try to do everything on your own because you can make yourself ill. Don’t feel guilty about staying in bed all day if that’s what you really need.”
The impact her experience has had has been huge. Ten operations later – including a skin graft and breast reconstruction – and Vicky says: “I take much more care of myself now.
“The results of the liposuction and breast reconstructions have been amazing and I now look as good as I did before having the kids. I’m determined to stay that way so made a conscious effort to eat better and exercise.
“Regards my outlook on life- I have always been an upbeat and positive person but I am now much more appreciative of the little things and don’t sweat the small stuff. I am more willing to take risks and care less about what other people think.
“I also have much more appreciation for my husband and my family.”
By sharing such a deeply personal and unique experience, Vicky says she “wanted to show people that the reconstructive surgery is pretty amazing.
“I wanted to encourage people to view their experiences positively and prove that even the worst experiences can be humorous if you have a positive outlook.”