Woman dies of blood poisoning after stubbed toe sets off bacteria 'time bomb'
Doctors believe Elizabeth Cochrane, 51, a mother of three from Fife, already had a dormant infection from a previous surgical operation. When she hit her toe on the ground at her home, the bruising enabled bacteria to enter her bloodstream, causing septicaemia.
She died days after the injury from an infection that caused her vital organs to fail.
Her husband, Joseph, 54, told how his wife of 31 years had complained of a sore foot for several days before her health deteriorated.
"We noticed the bottom of her foot was starting to turn purple, so she went to her doctor but he said it was just a skin infection," Mr Cochrane said. "Over the next few days, one of her toes started turning purple, too. Her foot was just getting darker and darker.
"One morning, she woke up in absolute agony. I called NHS Direct and a doctor came out and immediately called an ambulance."
Mrs Cochrane was taken from her home in Kennoway to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.
Mr Cochrane said: "When I saw Elizabeth lying in her hospital bed just a few hours later, I hardly recognised her.
"She was just skin and bone. It looked like everything had simply drained out of her body. I couldn't believe how quickly she had gone downhill.
"The doctors told me she had septicaemia, but that she didn't have any cuts on her body, which is how it is normally contracted. They said they thought the bacteria had got inside her during an operation she had the previous year and clotted inside her.
"They believe she must have stubbed her toe, causing the poison to be knocked free and infecting her blood. The bacteria had been like a ticking time bomb inside her and Elizabeth stubbing her toe had been enough to set it off."
Specialists told Mr Cochrane they would have to amputate his wife's leg below the knee to stop the infection spreading to the rest of her body.
But eventually they decided she was too weak for the traumatic operation and continued to dose her with antibiotics.
Despite their efforts, she died five days after she had been taken to hospital. By then, the purple patch on her foot had spread all the way to her waist.
"The surgeon at Ninewells Hospital said she was too weak to undergo an amputation," Mr Cochrane said. "By the Friday, the area of blackness on her leg had travelled up to her waist and she slipped away."
The couple had celebrated their wedding anniversary only two weeks before, and
she was buried on the day their elder son, Barry, 29, had been due to marry.
Mr Cochrane, a wood pattern-maker, said: "She had been unconscious for virtually the whole week.
"But I was allowed ten minutes with her while she was conscious before the doctors said there was nothing more they could do for her, and she slipped away soon after.
"We had celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary just two weeks before she died, and Barry had been due to marry on the day we buried her. Elizabeth had been so excited about the wedding, so Barry decided to hold it the week after her funeral instead, because that is what she would have wanted."
Mr Cochrane said his wife had been popular with everyone who met her and was absolutely devoted to Barry, their other children, Louise, 27, and Scott, 22, and their three grandchildren.
"We just can't believe Elizabeth is gone. It all happened so fast," he said.
News of her death comes days after it was revealed how Michael Maas, 61, from Swindon, died of septicaemia after contracting an infection when his cat scratched him.
Doctors prescribed antibiotics but Mr Maas was unable to digest them due to vomiting caused by the illness. James Lefanu, a GP and author, said: "When the protective layer of the skin is breached by a scratch then a more virulent or unusual species can spread rapidly.
"These days, readily available antibiotics have made the public too complacent.
"It is significant that the first patient to receive penicillin, Albert Alexander, an Oxford policeman, in February 1941, was 'desperately and pathetically ill' after scratching himself on a rose bush."