Aussie woman dies suddenly after 'unknown bug attacks her organs'

The infection quietly took over the 29-year old's body with her loved ones never getting a chance to say a proper goodbye.

A young woman's life was unexpectedly cut short after contracting an "unknown bug" which began to "attack her organs" leaving her body riddled with an untreatable infection.

Ashley Timbery, 29, was at home in Nowra, on the NSW South Coast, when she suddenly collapsed without warning on February 15, prompting her brother to rush her to hospital. But little did the family know she would never wake up and they'd lose her two weeks later without the chance to say goodbye.

"It turned out she had a superbug that was attacking all of her organs, and then she got pneumonia and that ultimately killed her," her cousin Shantelle Locke, told Yahoo News Australia. "She actually died when she got to the hospital so they resuscitated and incubated her straight away. She also had sepsis all through her body."

Left: Black and white image of Ashley Timber. Right: Ashley Timbery smiling.
Ashley Timbery, 29, has a staph infection called MRSA which led to pneumonia and sepsis. Source: Supplied by Shantelle Locke

MRSA infection led to pneumonia

Ashley remained at Shoalhaven Hospital for 10 days before being moved to St George Hospital in Sydney. It was there they discovered she had a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.

MRSA is caused by a type of staph bacteria that's resistant to antibiotics and is known to cause severe problems such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia, or surgical site infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states. It's usually spread in the community by contact with infected people or things that are carrying the bacteria such as a shared towel or razor.

"Doctor seemed to think that she might have had the pneumonia for maybe a few weeks before she went to hospital, but she never got it treated and obviously didn't know it was pneumonia," Shantelle said, adding it was "too late" by the time it was found.

Aussie woman's lungs 'covered in holes'

There was "no clear sign" that she was "severely" sick, her cousin said. In the days before she collapsed, the 29-year-old felt "slightly unwell" with body aches and felt very lethargic. She also had a couple of boils — which is a symptom of MRSA — but she thought nothing of them. However, there were no obvious signs of what was to come.

Left: Shantelle Locke posing with her cousin Ashley Timbery. Right: Ashley Timbery resting her chin on her fist.
Shantelle Locke (right) said her cousin Ashley was a 'hilarious' and 'fun-loving' person. Source: Supplied by Shantelle Locke

"When she was in Shoalhaven, they had to put a drainage in the right side of her lung because it collapsed, so they needed that to inflate it again," Shantelle explained. "Then when she got to St George, her left side partially collapsed".

It was at that point doctors called the family to "come to hospital because she wasn't going to make it".

"The doctors showed us a CT scan showing a normal lung. Then they showed us hers — hers was just covered in holes," Shantelle said. "This was a result of her lungs being clogged from the pneumonia, and from the bug starting to sit in the cavities in her lungs."

'Still a big shock'

The family say they're "shattered" by the tragic turn of events, describing Ashley as a "hilarious" and "fun-loving" woman.

"We haven't really had time to process it. It's still a big shock to us all," Shantelle admitted. "Honestly, we're still, trying to come to terms with it while trying to plan her funeral".

Shantelle is hoping to raise money for Ashley's parents — her aunt and uncle — to cover the unexpected costs. "Due to Ashley being so young we unfortunately didn't have a funeral plan in place," she said.

"Her mum is obviously shattered, but I think she just wants to put Ash at peace and let her just rest," Shantelle continued. "She died last Thursday. It's pretty hard for her. She's very fragile and she's very stressed."

Facts about MRSA:

  • There are two types of MRSA — healthcare-associated (HA-MRSA) and community-associated (CA-MRSA).

  • The bacteria are generally harmless unless they enter the body through a cut or other wound.

  • Community-associated MRSA often begins as a painful skin boil and is usually spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

  • Staph skin infections generally start as swollen, painful red bumps that might look like pimples or spider bites. The affected area might be warm to touch, full of pus and/or accompanied by a fever.

  • If left untreated, MRSA infections can become severe and cause sepsis—the body’s extreme response to an infection.

Source: CDC and Mayo Clinic

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