'Mum, I think I'm dying': Woman eaten by fungus after heart transplant

Shelby Slagle with her husband Ryan, who received US$1.35 million after settling a lawsuit with the hospital group. Photo / Facebook
Shelby Slagle with her husband Ryan, who received US$1.35 million after settling a lawsuit with the hospital group. Photo / Facebook

Shelby Slagle waited 27-years for a normal heartbeat, and more than two years for the heart transplant which would save her.

Born with a hole in her heart, by the age of 25 she received a pacemaker, but her heart was still failing.

The call that a donor heart was ready came in May, 2015. She arrived at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Ohio on May 3, brimming with happiness and confidence.

"Hi, I'm Shelby, and I'm here for my new heart," she said according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

She emerged from the operation well, her new heart beating strong.

Then, somebody noticed an infected bed sore on her body and the downhill slide began.

Daily surgeries to remove the infected tissue on her body could not stop a mould infection which was devouring her body.

A week before she died, Shelby's voice was silenced: She could not talk, and couldn't breathe unassisted. Between the hallucinations, she sent a harrowing text message to her mother.

Shelby was brimming with happiness when she found out she was getting a new heart. Photo / Facebook
Shelby was brimming with happiness when she found out she was getting a new heart. Photo / Facebook

"Mum, I think I'm dying," she wrote to her mother, Laurie Amick.

A week later, she was dead.

Shelby's parents' harrowing recount of her death comes after revelations she wasn't the only patient to die from mould infection at a UPMC hospital.

Two other transplant patients kept in the same hospital room as Slagle - Tracy Fischer, 47, and Che DuVall, 70 - also died from a fungal infection.

A fourth, unnamed patient who contracted a mould infection died in September 2015 at UPMC Montefiore. A lawsuit on behalf of a fifth transplant patient, Daniel Krieg, who died at Montefiore on July 9, 2016 contends a fungal infection contributed to his death.

Shelby's husband, Ryan, settled a lawsuit over the case for US$1.35 million in August.

"To be honest, it could have been $52 trillion, it doesn't bring Shelby back," her mother said.

Father Craig cannot find the words for what it's like "to sit there and watch your daughter be eaten by infection".

"It was a pretty fast down slide," he told the Tribune-Review's Ben Schmitt.

"Nobody knew what was going on."

The hospital's "stellar reputation" in the transplant field, meant the family believed UPMS was the best place for Shelby to be.

But the fungal infection which ravaged her body was the same as one which killed a woman eight months earlier, and a man eight months later in the same room, known as "bed 3".

"It got progressively worse," Laurie said.

"Eventually, she had to go to surgery every day. They would take out more tissue and removed most of her buttocks. The infection had gotten so deep. It had eaten down through the skin, the muscle and started to get to the bone."

A bench at a children's hospital in memory of Shelby. Photo / Facebook
A bench at a children's hospital in memory of Shelby. Photo / Facebook

The "rhizopus" laid waste to her body, her voice, and, as the hallucinations began, her mind.

Her mum bought her a whiteboard so she could communicate when the breathing tube went in.

"And then, it got to the point where she couldn't hold the pen," Laurie said.

In September 2015, UPMC acknowledged a problem with fungal infections and shut down its transplant programme for six days. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention opened an investigation.

The CDC report last in December advised UPMC not to house transplant patients with compromised immune systems in negative-pressure rooms.

UPMC said it would comply.

By then, DuVall, the fourth patient, was already sick. He died two months later.

- news.com.au

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