Flesh-eating bacteria survivor hikes Mount Kilimanjaro

Christin Lipinski, now recovered from her necrotizing fasciitis, recently hiked Mount Kilimanjaro with seven other burn victim survivors. (Christin Lipinski/Submitted)

Christin Lipinski, a special education teacher at Oakwood Elementary School, has dealt with her fair share of adversity in her life.

Back in 2018, she spent two and a half months in the hospital dealing with necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria.

Initially, Lipinski said she couldn’t even see the cut in the area that wound up leading to her necrotizing fasciitis.

Additionally, she had been feeling flu-like symptoms, but at the time, her whole family had been sick, so she thought she had simply contracted the flu.

“It’s so hard to know,” she said. “That’s the scary part about necrotizing fasciitis, is it can sneak in in such a tiny way and then do so much damage.”

It took seven days for Lipinski’s body to show any real sign of necrotizing fasciitis.

After being rushed to the operating room at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Central Avenue and Thomas Road, surgeons had to cut away about 30% of her soft tissue to halt the spreading of the bacteria and even had preliminary thoughts of having to amputate her arm.

From there, Lipinski was in a medically induced coma for 24 days.

As far as treatment went, Lipinski’s was unconventional. The RECELL System was used to help her in healing.

Typically used exclusively for burn victims, RECELL is a device that enables health care professionals to produce a suspension of spray-on skin cells using a small sample of the patient’s own skin.

“We later found out after RECELL had been used on me, it had kind of leaked out that I was actually the very first necrotizing fasciitis survivor who was able to get RECELL,” Lipinski said. “That was really great and kind of opened the doors to be used for all patients after that.”

Now a few years removed from the life-altering situation, Lipinski is as close to back to living the life she lived prior to the disease.

“I’ve gotten right back to what I was doing before,” she said. “Once I came home and went through some intense occupational therapy and was able to drive again, I had to be full-time mom again, and I didn’t feel I was being held back.”

Not only is she back to living life as she knew it, but she is doing even more.

In an effort to create more awareness for the new Arizona Burn Center at Valleywise Health, Lipinski, along with seven other burn victim survivors, recently hiked Mount Kilimanjaro.

This was possible through a campaign called “Courage Rising” sponsored by the Valleywise Health Foundation to show that burn survivors can accomplish anything.

The hike, Lipinski said, was certainly challenging, but also eye opening.

“The beauty of Tanzania, the beauty of the people in Tanzania and the mountain is just something that is such an experience,” she said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Lipinski felt as though the work she put in recovering from necrotizing fasciitis helped her out on the at times grueling hike.

“I was telling my family that I actually was really, really proud of myself throughout the hike feeling as strong as I was able to keep going,” Lipinski said. “That determination that I had during my recovery definitely was coming out in the mountain. It definitely hit some emotional chords.

“You can’t help but put yourself back into where I was back at the hospital, thinking, ‘OK, it was really awful when I had to learn to walk again. That was awful. You can do this.’”

In all, Lipinski and the group wound up hiking roughly 30 miles. She said a common topic of conversation among herself and the other seven hikers was realizing they had already gone through much worse.

“We learned a lot of great tips just to reserve our energy,” Lipinski said. “Doing a hike like that, it definitely is an eye-opener of what your body is capable of doing.”

For those going through their own adversarial life events, Lipinski said being surrounded by people who truly understand what is going on is of the utmost importance.

“First and foremost, don’t give up on yourself. Second, reach out to survivor groups. With the necrotizing fasciitis, I sat there feeling like, ‘Why was I chosen for this?’ … Just reaching out to someone that understands just makes you feel a little bit more whole.”

To donate to Courage Rising, go to valleywisehealthfoundation.org/