Mother-of-two suffering skin infection told by doctors to 'toughen up'

Mother-of-two who suffered life-threatening skin infection after getting tummy tuck and liposuction for her 28th birthday was told by plastic surgeon to ‘toughen up’

  • Jamie Hilburn, now 39 and from Oklahoma, said she got the surgery as a present
  • But several days later the skin on her left side was painful and had turned red
  • Plastic surgeon initially told her to ‘toughen up’ and that it was due to recovery
  • But after the pain worsened, even after a trip to the hospital, her grandmother rung the doctor to insist she was seen urgently
  • At another hospital Hilburn was diagnosed with MRSA, and kept on wards for ten days while they gave her another antibiotic to ease the symptoms
  • She still has a scar on the left side of her body from the skin infection 

A mother-of-two who suffered a life-threatening skin infection after getting a tummy tuck and liposuction for her 28th birthday was told by her doctor to ‘toughen up’.

Jamie Hilburn, now 39 and from Edmond, Oklahoma, said she got the surgery — which remove fat and excess skin — as a present to herself to help boost her self-confidence.

But several days after the procedure the skin on her left side became painful to the touch and turned red like it was sunburnt. The hairdresser called her doctor — who has not been named, yet was just told to ‘toughen up’ and that it was part of the recovery.

When the pain intensified — even after a hospital visit to get medication — her grandmother rung the surgeon and said: ‘Listen pal, this is not “toughen-up recovery”. There’s something wrong. She’s in a lot of pain.’

After that she was referred to another hospital where they diagnosed MRSA and kept her on wards for ten days. Hilburn — who was forced to file for bankruptcy by the experience — still has a scar on her left side from the treatment.

MRSA is a potentially life-threatening infection, because the bacteria are resistant to several types of antibiotics. Up to half of patients die, estimates suggest, and 20,000 Americans are killed by these super-resistant bacteria annually.

Jamie Hilburn, now 39 and from Edmond, Oklahoma, was left spending ten days in hospital after contracting MRSA following liposuction and a tummy tuck. She is pictured above during treatment for the infection

Revealing the experience 11 years later, Hilburn says she still has a scar on her left side. She is pictured above with her fiance and daughter, 7, who she had after the ordeal

Revealing her experience to The Insider, Hilburn said: ‘It’s just something you’d never in a million years think would happen over a silly, vain procedure.’

She added: ‘I wanted to get the surgery for obvious reasons — for appearance, for insecurities, but I just don’t care anymore.

‘It’s made me love what I have without needing anything more.’

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that is resistant to several widely-used antibiotics, which makes it particularly hard to treat.

Catching the infection early could prevent it spreading and infecting others.

Approximately 30 per cent of people carry the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria even in their nose, armpits, groin or buttocks without realising it.

This can invade the body’s bloodstream and release poisonous toxins that kill up to one-fifth of infected patients.

MRSA is most commonly associated with hospitals. 

As well as being highly drug resistant, current screening methods are fairly inaccurate, which allows the infection to spread as a patient moves around both within and outside hospitals.

Even when the infection is successfully treated, it doubles the average length of a patient’s hospital stay, as well as increasing healthcare costs.

The WHO recently classified MRSA as high priority on its list for the Research and Development of new drugs.

After her first call to the doctor, Hilburn revealed she spent the night lying on the arm of her sofa putting pressure on the red skin as that was the only way to relieve the pain.

The next day she went to a nearby hospital where they diagnosed cellulitis, a common bacterial infection.

Hilburn says they prescribed her painkillers and sleeping medication before discharging her, and not antibiotics that can kill the bacteria.

Once the pain intensified and after another call to her doctor she was referred to a larger hospital in the state for treatment.

There tests quickly revealed an MRSA infection, triggered by a Staphylococcus bacteria that was able to resist several known antibiotics.

Fortunately, one of the hospital’s ‘last chance’ antibiotics was able to kill the bacteria and cleared the infection. 

Hospitals have a store of these antibiotics — not available elsewhere — that are only offered to patients when other commonly used antibiotics have failed. They are kept back to preserve their potency, because if the medication is used too often bacteria may learn how to get around it.

After 10 days in hospital, Hilburn then spent another month receiving care at home where she was hooked up to an IV and had a drainage bag.

It was not clear how she caught the infection, but the Mayo clinic says it is possible to become infected during surgery if medics are not stringent about washing their hands and cleaning tools between patients.

Hilburn said her plastic surgeon refunded the procedure and covered her home care after she was diagnosed with MRSA.

But he did not cover the hospital bills totalling $125,000, forcing her to file for bankruptcy. Her insurance also refused to cover them because the trip was triggered by a cosmetic procedure.

At the time she was a single mother to her son, who she said helped her ‘make it through the experience’.

But she has since become engaged, and had a daughter — who is now seven years old — and returned to school to study psychology.

Jamie Hilburn got the tummy tuck and liposuction for her 28th birthday as a present to herself. But after she suffered a skin infection – eventually diagnosed as MRSA – she was initially told to ‘toughen up’ by her doctor

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that removes fat from areas of the body — such as the hips, buttocks, arms or neck — while a tummy tuck sees excess fat and skin removed from the abdomen to ‘shape’ the area.

Both carry risks including of a skin infection, scarring, fluid accumulating beneath the areas of the skin operated on and a loss of feeling in certain areas.

In rare cases, MRSA infections may occur following the procedures.

About 120,000 cases of the disease are diagnosed in the United States every year along with 20,000 or so deaths, estimates suggest — with the numbers rising.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns anyone who becomes infected may suffer skin that turns red, becomes swollen and painful and is also warm to the touch.

They recommend anyone with these symptoms should quickly contact their doctor to get medical treatment.

Infections with the bacteria can be prevented through cleaning wounds, not picking at sores, and regularly cleaning hands — including after touching bandages or a wound.

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