It was the end of August 2013. Cathy Lake was chopping strawberries and pineapple, a familiar routine for most parents with a young child. Cathy cut her finger badly. She bandaged it and applied Neosporin, then went on with her day.
The People & Places behind Cathy’s Story
Pen Bay Medical Center (Rockport) to Maine Medical Center (Portland)
Captain Pat Giarrizzo
Nurse Jeremy Nadeau
Paramedic Ryan Walsh
CommSpec Terri Smith
Cathy’s husband, Jeff, was recovering from a cold at the time, and Cathy was taking an immunosuppressant medication, so she didn’t think much of it when she began to feel a little sluggish and worn down a few days later. “I felt like an inflated balloon getting farther and farther away” she said. “My last memory is laying my son’s school clothes out. He was 7. His first day of school was a Tuesday, so it must have been Labor Day. I don’t have any memory from then until the third week of October.”
Early on that Tuesday morning, Jeff found her unconscious on the bathroom floor. He called 911, and an ambulance took her to Pen Bay Medical Center in nearby Rockport. “I don’t have any memories from Pen Bay or the ICU at Maine Medical Center, but I do have a memory of a helicopter noise,” Cathy recalled. She had a high fever and was in septic shock. They requested a LifeFlight transport. The flight to Portland took 25 minutes. Jeff raced after the helicopter in his car and got to Maine Med about an hour and 45 minutes later.
Cathy spent six weeks at Maine Med, where she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis. When she woke up, she couldn’t talk or feed herself. She had to have multiple surgeries and grafts. She spent all of 2014 trying to recover. “It was a hurricane through my body,” she said. She finally finished her last graft in 2020.
Today, her son, Liam, is a junior in high school and an honor roll student. Cathy went back to school and is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Augusta in December 2023. “I have an indent on the tip of my finger,” she said, and she sometimes needs to go slowly on the stairs, but otherwise she has few lingering effects. “If I think I’m having a bad day, I look at my finger and say ‘Ok, I get to do this today. That was a bad day.’”
First published as the August feature story in the LifeFlight of Maine 2024 Calendar.