GRAND RAPIDS, MICH—For more than a week the nation has been following the story of 24-year-old Aimee Copeland, the psychology student from Georgia who is battling a rare flesh eating bacteria that's already forced doctors to amputate one leg and parts of her abdomen.
Now, a West Michigan woman who is battling the same disease is sharing her story and hoping to show it's not as rare as people may think.
"I was screaming in pain - it was so bad. My leg felt like it was burning from the inside out," said Toni.
Just a week after a minor procedure to remove a boil from her inner right thigh, Toni's leg and mid-section were being consumed by Necrotizing Fasciitis -- commonly called the flesh eating bacteria.
"If you have an infection it smells horrid too," said Toni.
Even though Toni was diagnosed within a week, doctors at Spectrum Butterworth were less than optimistic.
"That first night when the doctor came out he said, 'this might end it. This is probably going to end it for her,'" said Toni's husband, Dan.
Toni doesn't remember the three weeks she spent in intensive care while doctors removed a large section of flesh from her body. However, the still-gaping wound is reminder enough.
"We're doing dressing changes twice a day. I'm doing those," said Dan. "When I first started doing the dressing changes, when I was packing the gauze and stuffing it in, [the wound] would go up to my wrist [while] packing it in."
While the flesh eating bacteria is rare, several other survival stories have surfaced in the week since 24-year-old Aimee Copeland from Georgia grabbed national headlines for catching the flesh eating bacteria from a zip-line cut. And although its rare, Toni's telling her story so others will take the disease seriously.
"It doesn't just happen there. It's in our own back yard," said Dan.
With doctors saying the disease kills about one in four, Toni counts herself lucky.
"There is a bright side to this, if you will, because she's here sitting with us today," said Dan.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 1,000 people get the flesh eating bacteria every year. It comes from a common disease that enters the body through an open wound or damaged skin. Most people's immune systems are able to fight it off but sometimes that isn't enough.
As for Toni, she has skin grafting surgeries, physical therapy, and many months of recovery ahead.