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Pacific Islander advocate fighting for her life after contracting flesh-eating bacteria from 15 spider bites

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PeteMuller/Getty Images

A Utah woman is currently in a hospital fighting for her life after she contracted a flesh-eating bacteria from a series of spider bites she got while on a recent fishing trip.

Susi Feltch-Malohifo'ou, a 59-year-old woman and a nationally recognized advocate for the Pacific Islander community, recently went on a fishing trip to Mirror Lake, about an hour and a half east of Salt Lake City. Shortly after she returned, she became ill.

"When she woke up Sunday morning, she had a headache, a fever, and was in some pain," her son, Adrian Swensen, told reporters. "Those symptoms progressed to the point that we decided she needed to see her doctor."

At the hospital, Feltch-Malohifo'ou tested negative for COVID and the flu, so doctors gave her two shots and some prescription medicine and sent her home.

But she grew worse.

When Feltch-Malohifo'ou returned to the hospital a second time, doctors discovered that she had 15 spider bites on her body and that at least seven of them had become infected with a flesh-eating bacteria. Because of the damage caused by the bacteria, doctors now believe she is suffering from a condition known as necrotizing fasciitis.

According to the CDC, necrotizing fasciitis occurs when certain bacteria destroy tissue at a rapid pace. If not diagnosed quickly, necrotizing fasciitis can lead to sepsis, shock, and organ failure. Though antibiotics are often administered as quickly as possible once a diagnosis has been made, antibiotics may not be able to contain an infection if the damage has already become too severe.

In instances in which antibiotics are no longer effective, doctors must surgically remove the dead tissue. Such is the case for Feltch-Malohifo'ou. Thus far, she has already undergone six surgeries and has had over 10 pounds of dead tissue removed. And she likely has more procedures in her future, according to the GoFundMe account established to help defray her medical expenses.

"She is very sick," Swensen said. "We are told that if they can get her stable and through all of the removal and cleaning, she will have a very long road of recovery.

"We are people of faith and are in constant prayer that she will be healed and in a timely manner."

Feltch-Malohifo'ou runs a nonprofit called Pacific Islander Knowledge to Action Resources, which aims to highlight the economic impact that Pacific Islanders have in America, to prevent violence in the community, and to preserve Pacific Islander culture. As a result of her activism, Feltch-Malohifo'ou won the FBI's Director's Community Leadership Award for Utah in 2018 and was listed on the Forbes "50 over 50" list of 2021.

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