Caitlin Cooper’s journey of healing and hope

May 15, 2024

“May 2023. I had spent the week of my 17th birthday celebrating with my friends and family, not knowing how quick my life was about to change. I am now one of the youngest survivors of a rare flesh-eating infection called Necrotizing Fasciitis and this is my story” – Caitlin Cooper, Northern Health patient.

When Caitlin Cooper, a vibrant 17-year-old student and dancer urgently presented to Northern Health Emergency Department after injuring her right foot dancing, she was completely unaware her life would take an unexpected turn. Caitlin suffered horrendous pain and rapid swelling, but thanks to the prompt action of a plastic surgeon, she was swiftly diagnosed with Necrotizing Fasciitis.

What followed was a series of surgeries and treatments including antibiotics, extensive debridement and various medical procedures. Caitlin spent most of her time at Northern Hospital Epping under the attentive care of specialist nurses on Ward 19, and later, on Ward 2, surrounded by paediatric nurses during her reconstruction phase.

Her recovery journey was challenging. Caitlin had to re-learn basic activities, maintain proper nutrition for healing and keep a positive outlook. Throughout it all, she found solace in the dedicated care of the nurses and staff, who not only tended to her medical needs, but also provided emotional support during her toughest moments.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget the nurses and the care I received on Ward 19 and the Children’s Ward. They always made sure I was happy and helped find positives in each day. They would put a smile on my face when I needed it the most, stay with me if I couldn’t sleep and were always there for me, especially on my bad days,” said Ms Cooper.

“I would also like to acknowledge my plastic surgeons and plastics doctors that came around each morning and made me feel comfortable by keeping me informed of my progress. The connections I’ve made with my doctors, surgeons, nurses and all the other staff that I met at the Northern Hospital over the last year, has given me wonderful memories to think back on rather than my traumatic experience.”

After eight surgeries and 29 days spent in the hospital under the care of a multidisciplinary team, Caitlin was finally discharged. Even after leaving the hospital, she continued her recovery journey with regular visits to the Northern Health Wound Clinic.

Despite the hardships, Caitlin’s story didn’t end with her recovery. She became a beacon of hope for others facing similar challenges.

“Four news channels interviewed me, and my story went viral, reaching millions of people! What I loved most was being able to lend a hand to others facing similar challenges. I received tons of messages and comments from people who wanted to share their own stories—it was incredible! Being called an inspiration meant the world to me. It’s what fuels my drive to keep dancing with all my heart,” said Ms Cooper.

Today, Caitlin is back doing what she loves – dancing. She has returned to her performing arts college and has even been accepted as a principal dancer for the Victorian State School Spectacular 2024. Despite the hurdles, Caitlin is now training full-time while completing her final year of high school.

Recently, Caitlin had the opportunity to share her journey at the Northern Health Plastics Study Day. Amongst the other presenters on the day were; Tessa Bruno, Plastics Clinical Nurse Consultant, Vicki Malamatinas, Plastics Nurse Practitioner, Northern Health Plastic Surgery team members, Hand Therapy, Polynovo and others. Caitlin’s presentation allowed nursing staff to gain insight into the patient’s perspective and the importance of providing compassionate care during long hospital stays.

“Having Caitlin present on the day gave staff a firsthand glimpse into the patient’s perspective, highlighting the critical role of support, education, and patient input during their hospital stay. It provided valuable insights into how staff can incorporate diverse approaches into their practice to better support long-stay and complex reconstructive patients, ensuring they receive comprehensive care,” said Ms Bruno.

Pictured in featured image (L-R): Caitlin Cooper and Tessa Bruno, Plastics Clinical Nurse Consultant.