Warning: The video in this story contains graphic images.
TUTTLE, Okla. – An Oklahoma woman has a cautionary tale about a little-known danger in the saliva of many dogs and cats.
It’s a danger that left her without her legs and six of her fingers.
She and her doctor want you to know you don’t have to get rid of your pets – but you do need to be aware.
Where you find Kathy Roberts – you’ll find dogs.
In 2017 – as she has many times before – she took another in – a foster with a rescue she volunteered for – and the little Maltese was cute as a button.
“Two-year-old, sweet little boy, healthy nothing wrong with him,” Roberts recalled.
That was in mid-October but soon – everything would change.
“On November 15th I had my 60th birthday in the hospital and the very next day they amputated my fingers,” Roberts said.
Two weeks later – two more amputations.
“It was hard, it was painful to have legs one day and not have legs the next,” she recalled.
So what went wrong?
“I was not sick at my stomach, no sore throat, none of those symptoms but just very, very tired,” Roberts said. “Kind of flu like systems and the next day I got pretty bad.”
That sudden illness that wasn’t just bad – but unusual.
“My right leg, when I’d get up to walk was dragging,” she recalled.
Roberts’ husband rushed her to the emergency room.
“My blood pressure was extremely low,” she said. “My heart rate was extremely high. I was severely dehydrated.”
For more than a day, there were no answers.
Roberts’ doctor at St. Anthony started asking her family a lot of questions.
She wanted to know everything that happened in the days leading up to her becoming sick.
Finally – they remembered one thing – with the little Maltese.
“I was giving my little dog some chicken one night and he took the piece of chicken from my hand – I wasn’t paying attention,” Roberts said.
In that split second – one little nip.
“Just a slight little scratch of the skin there and it wasn’t real bad at all, so never thought two things about it,” Roberts said.
“It seemed inconsequential at the time but that led us to the diagnosis of the infection,” said Dr. Karen Allen who treated Roberts at St. Anthony.
That infection – capnocytophaga.
It’s caused by bacteria found in the mouths of dogs and cats.
“Depending on what study you look at, about 75% of the dogs in any given study will have the bacteria in their mouth,” Allen said.
Dr. Karen Allen, who cared for Kathy, says the bacteria is common but the infection is not.
She says it’s so rare it’s not even a reportable disease but incidents are estimated to be 0.5 per one million.
It typically affects those with a weakened immune system – which Kathy had.
Once she realized what it was – Allen says time was of the essence.
“As she progressed, one thing that capnocytophaga causes in patients when it’s a very severe infection is gangrene of the extremities,” she said.
Roberts’ fingers and legs started to change dramatically.
“They treated me as if I was a burn patient,” Roberts said. “I had huge blisters and my legs were black.”
Roberts soon learned she would lose six fingers and both legs.
The goal then was a lower leg amputation – to give her a chance at more mobility with prosthetics.
“So he would have the nurses take gauze and scrape all those blisters open – trying to keep the infection below my knees,” Roberts recalled.
Less than a month after the bite – Roberts’ fingers were amputated.
Her legs – just two weeks after that surgery.
Her spleen died.
But all that couldn’t stop her.
“I was determined to get up, start walking and chase my grandkids, do the things that I enjoy again,” she said.
Kathy was fitted for prosthetics about 3 months after her amputations.
She now has new legs – and new fingers.
She often thinks of the dog who bit her.
“I cried worrying about him,” she recalled.
Roberts wanted to make sure the blame was not put on him.
“I was very worried that he might have to be put to sleep or something but he was ok,” Roberts said. “He got adopted.”
In fact, Roberts thinks it might have been meant to be.
The dog previously belonged to a woman who was pregnant.
She wanted to re-home him because he tended to be nippy.
“So I’ve thought about that a lot that it was me and not a baby,” Roberts said.
Just when she started to move on – she suffered another blow in the form of a breast cancer diagnosis.
She has three more rounds of chemo and possible surgeries ahead.
But she’s still staying remarkably strong.
“It’s just another bump in the road and we have to keep on going,” she said.
If you are bitten, Dr. Allen says to seek medical advice as soon as possible, even if you think it’s minor.
Kathy washed her bite injuries and put on triple-antibiotic ointment but it wasn’t enough.
Doctors will determine if you need antibiotics, which are key to stopping this infection.