The household budget was already tight for Kelli and Robbin Whitehead before a fateful day two years ago when Kelli waded into the Gulf of Mexico off Cortez Beach on Anna Maria Island.
The next day, the Bradenton couple noticed a troubling rash on the back of Kelli’s left thigh. It was soon followed by blisters that ran down her leg, which began to turn purple. The Whiteheads went to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, where doctors determined that Kelli had contracted an aggressive flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis, commonly caused by bacteria that enter the body through cuts or breaks in the skin.
Within a week, Kelli had to have her left leg amputated. On the brink of organ failure, she was quickly placed on a ventilator and dialysis.
In the two years since, the Whiteheads credit her doctors – especially Dr. James Kotick – for saving her life.
“God saved my life, but they had anointed hands,” she said of the surgeons who cared for her.
Kelli’s medical problems persist – she’s had 29 surgeries and multiple skin grafts in her abdominal region after doctors had to cut away infected parts of her stomach, and she has fallen twice while using a walker, breaking three ribs and her right ankle – and the couple’s financial situation has gone from tenuous to a crisis.
Before the bacterial infection, the two got by on a combination of Kelli’s job as a restaurant hostess and Robbin’s disability checks, which he receives due to a severe heart condition that prevented him from going back to work as a brickmason on commercial demolition projects.
“We were just barely making it,” Robbin Whitehead said.