FLOWERY BRANCH, Georgia — It all started with a pain in her elbow.
"I brushed it off, went to work, and then it got progressively worse the next day," said Tamika Compton of Flowery Branch, who was diagnosed with a form of necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria, in her right arm last September.
Today, Compton, is healthy, happy and back at work with nearly full use of her arm.
"The other day she came to my office and she had braided her own hair," said Dr. Puya Davoodi, who treated Compton at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. "The arm was non-functioning before, and now she's back at work at Chili's. It's amazing."
Originally, Compton was diagnosed with tendonitis at Gwinnett Medical Center. She was given a morphine shot and was told to put an ice pack on it.
Three days later, her arm was swollen to nearly three times its size, and she was admitted to Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
"I was there from that point on for almost two months," she said.
She was placed in a medically induced coma for six days, during which time she underwent five surgeries to remove the affected flesh, muscle and tissue. She later had two skin-graft surgeries to repair her arm.
Davoodi said he did not honestly expect her to heal so well.
"I think honestly she is doing miraculously," he said. "When she first came in, I told her parents if we could save her life, I would be impressed."
From the beginning of her diagnosis, Davoodi wanted Compton to be prepared for all the possibilities. He had dealt with flesh-eating bacteria before and said some people die in the operating room because of it.
"Dr. Davoodi said, 'I'm going to be honest with you, Tamika. I may be able to save your life, but I may not be able to save your arm,'" she said. "I went under the knife not knowing if I was going to A. Wake up, and B. Have an arm. When I woke up and saw my arm, I was excited."
Davoodi removed much of the muscle in Compton's upper arm, to the point that a nerve was exposed. To repair it, he moved a piece of muscle from her lower arm and placed it over the exposed nerve.
The most impressive part of treating Compton, Davoodi said, was her attitude.
"She's such an upbeat girl," he said. "She was really one of my favorite patients just because of her attitude and standpoint."
Compton said she was grateful to Davoodi for treating her so well and getting her out of the hospital in time for the holidays. She was released in late October and proceeded with occupational therapy through February.
Davoodi did all Compton's surgeries pro bono because she didn't have insurance to cover it.
"No matter how many times I took her to the OR, it took away time and resources," he said. "But it was something I wanted to do because she was so upbeat about it."
One of the hardest parts of the last six months for Compton was not knowing how she contracted the virus.
"That's what made me the most anxious when I went home," she said. "I didn't know where I got it from, I didn't know what to avoid or stay away from. But I had to take it as, I know we're all going to go one day. If I get flesh-eating bacteria again, I get flesh-eating bacteria again.
"I can't be scared, and I can't just put my life on hold."
Compton returned to work at Chili's in Flowery Branch last week after taking a leave of absence. She's not currently waiting tables, but she's working the to-go counter. She has full use of her hand and a wide-range of mobility with her arm.
She thanked her husband Remarco Earls for his support, all those who donated to her GoFundMe account and those who prayed for her during the process.
She also encouraged people to be careful, particularly during the summer months.
"I really want people to know what to look for," she said. "With a flesh-eating bacteria, it's all about diagnosing it fast. If I can help one or two people not lose a limb or alter their whole lives, then I want them to know about this."
Information from: The Times, http://www.gainesvilletimes.com