Stories: Tanya Gludau

One of the things I want to do with this blog is to provide a space where we learn about this disease through the stories of people who were infected by it. One such story is the touching tale of Tanya Gludau, a chef who contracted the bacteria when she accidentally cut a finger while preparing food in the kitchen.

Read Tanya’s story, as reported by the Tahoe Daily Tribune, after the jump.

By the way, as you can see in this photo, Tanya shared her story on Oprah during an episode where the Queen of Talk focused on the disease.

A Survivor’s Story
by Jeff Munson/Tahoe Daily Tribune

LAKE TAHOE — In a South Shore grocery store or coffee shop, or out shopping for shoes, Tanya Gludau goes about her business as anyone would. Like many harried shoppers, the South Lake Tahoe woman has a mission, gets what she wants and leaves. To those around her, Gludau perceives herself as out of sight and out of mind. But she knows she’s really not: In her periphery, she notes the eyes of other shoppers. They’re either curiously transfixed — especially if they are the eyes of children — or they look, shift and dart away.

“I’ve gotten used to the stares,” the 34-year-old woman said. “At first, they were annoying, but anymore I just don’t think about it.”

And so it goes for Gludau: March 22 marked an agonizing one-year anniversary. On that day a year ago, she lost half of her right upper body to a strange infection called necrotizing fasciitis.

This flesh-eating bacteria, considered fatal within 72 hours, incubated from a form of Strep A that all humans have in their bodies; the bacteria formed a perfect storm in her bloodstream. For Gludau, it was identified 70 hours after it had begun to seize her arm, killing the flesh in her fingertips first, then moving to her hand, arm, chest and shoulder.

Eight Salt Lake City surgeons spent nearly 12 hours to stop the bacteria from moving to its deadly destination: her brain.

They stopped it, but in the process had to sever Gludau’s entire arm above her collarbone. Doctors also had to make deep cuts down through the right side of her neck and chest, removing her right breast.

The almost-surreal encounter with the bacteria has sensitized Gludau to her physical appearance and how it draws visceral reactions. Before March 2007, she explains, she, too, was curious when she encountered people with physical disabilities. She would find herself looking at a person, well up with empathy and then turn her eyes away.

“I think it’s human to look,” she said. “When you see somebody who’s disfigured, you’re seeing something that’s out of the ordinary. So your eyes go there.

“I think people want to know what happened to me, but I don’t think a lot of people have it in them to come up and ask,” she said. “If they did, I would tell them. I would tell them about necrotizing fasciitis.”

Read the rest at the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Photo credit: Harpo Productions