WARNING, GRAPHIC CONTENT: An Australian woman was left devastated after an indulgent Thai holiday fish spa turned into a living nightmare when an infected fish tank led to all five toes on her right foot being amputated.
Property manager Victoria Curthoys, 29 from Perth contracted an infection in her big toe after stepping on glass, resulting in doctors amputating half of her toe.
Four years later, while on holiday in Thailand in 2010, Victoria used one of the ever-popular fish spas whereby small freshwater fish feed off and remove the foot’s dead skin.
The treatment gave Victoria another infection, this time to the bone of her big toe, from a water-born bug only found in Thailand, which had seeped through the wounds from her earlier surgery.
Upon returning to Perth, Victoria was forced to see doctors after the infection left her with fevers and sickness.
Despite her declining state of health, it took doctors over a year to diagnose the disease as Schwelmenella, an infection which eats away at the bone, eventually forcing doctors to amputate the entire big toe in December 2012.
After the initial infection was removed through amputation, the pressure of walking on her smaller toes left Victoria with rough calluses and further infections, eventually leading to Victoria’s other four toes being removed over the course of the next five years.
“When I was 17 years old I received a cut on the bottom of my big toe after cutting it on some glass,” said Victoria.
“I didn’t notice it was cut as it was on the bottom of the toe and not causing me any pain.
“It took me a while to realise it was there so by that time I already had an infection in the bone, so the doctors amputated half of the big toe.
“Then when I was in Thailand I decided to use a fish spa. I thought nothing of it as I’d watched the owner set up the system and it looked very clean, but how wrong I was.
“I ended up getting another bone infection in my big toe and it took doctors over a year to figure out what type of bug I had. By the time they’d realised what it was, my entire toe bone had been eaten away and I’d been suffering from sickness the whole time.
“They eventually decided to take the big toe off completely. I felt relieved that I could go back to my life without being sick all the time and I was determined to get better, so I could show the doctors I had been right the whole time.
“A year of walking without a big toe caused ulcers on the second toe from the pressure placed on it. It had a rough callus over the top, but I was unaware that underneath that there was another raging infection.
“This time, the doctors took the second toe and left me with three toes.
“I was healthy for another two years, I thought I was very lucky to still have my foot and carried on with my life. But then I started to get sick again.
“Every morning I would be vomiting and constantly had a fever, but X-rays weren’t showing any signs of infections, so the doctors fobbed it off for a long time and they told me it was all in my head.
“It wasn’t until my podiatrist ordered blood samples that they realised that I did in fact have another bone infection and I had a very high white blood cell count. This was why I was feeling so terrible.
“In November 2016 my doctors took the third and fourth toes, but for some reason they left the small toe.
“Because the little toe was the only one left, I kept knocking it and when I walked, and all the pressure would go onto the little toe.
“Last year I noticed my small toe wasn’t looking very happy and there was some liquid on my sock, but I couldn’t see any cuts.
“After a few blood samples and more X-rays, they discovered another bone infection, so they finally took the last toe in November 2017.”
Despite losing all of her toes, Victoria is glad to no longer suffer from infectious diseases and she wants to warn others against using the fish spas which caused her so much devastation.
“I can honestly say that my foot has never been as healthy as it is now. Now I can put pressure on my foot,” said Victoria.
“Now and again I tend to trip because of the lack of feeling and having to get used to not having any toes, but I’ve been very lucky to be able to just get back up and walk.
“My parents are proud of me and my friends think I’m awesome because I’ve been through a lot, but at the end of the day I’ve seen people with far worse injuries and life-altering illnesses, so I consider myself lucky.
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“One day I might lose my right leg entirely as the pressure could build up again and affect the sole of my foot, but I check my foot every day to make sure there’s no new pressure spots.
“I also warn people about the dangers of fish spas by discouraging them from using one if I can because we have no idea who those fish have bitten previously.
“By taking photos of my feet and posting them on Instagram I hope to build more confidence in myself and to have a positive impact on others who might not be happy with how their foot or leg looks after amputation.”