GRAND ISLE, LA (WAFB) - Charlotte Maxwell is a fisherman. It's been a pastime of hers for some 40 years. "I just always fished," Maxwell said. "I don't know why. I'd rather do that than shop."
But her last big catch just so happened to be the beginning of something so scary that it would make her change where she spends her free time.
"It was a 23-inch redfish," Maxwell recalls. "I said, 'Yeah, I want to go,' so I went... wished I hadn't."
The weekend before Memorial Day, Maxwell went on a family fishing trip to Grand Isle, where they spent days on the water, but Maxwell wasn't quite feeling like herself when it was time to head home. A day later, a portion of her ankle was suddenly red and swollen.
"By the time I got home and I hit Baton Rouge, I was aching all over," the St. Francisville resident said. "I came home and that night, it turned dark, all on the top of my foot, all up my leg."
Hours later, a high fever set in and Maxwell found herself in the hospital facing what she says doctors called a flesh-eating bacteria. "They knew when I told them I'd been to Grand Isle, they knew what it was," Maxwell said.
In a few weeks' time, Maxwell slowly watched the skin on her toes and leg crumble. What looked like minor scratches turned into dark holes. At one point, Maxwell thought she would lose a limb. "Then, they came back and said, 'We can save your foot, but we don't know about two toes.' So far, I have all five of them," Maxwell said with a smile.
After six surgeries to remove the infectious bacteria and five weeks in the hospital, Maxwell is now at home recovering and waiting on her next skin graft. That surgery will help replace the skin on the top of her foot and toes. "They took my skin here and now they're talking about either going back further on my thigh and taking skin or putting box skin on my leg," she said.
Safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control can be found here.
Maxwell is now urging swimmers and fishermen to be mindful of what could be floating around in the Gulf.
"I feel good. I can walk around with a walker and get around with a wheelchair, but it's hard," Maxwell said. "I couldn't do it again I don't think. That's why I say I'm done fishing down there. I might fish in a pond around here or something. This is nothing to play with. I'm lucky I kept my toes and my foot."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, when near coastal waters, a harmful bacteria could possibly be contracted. The CDC suggests avoiding salt water if you have an open wound and if you develop an infection, immediately contact your medical provider.