Survivor to share inspiring story at CFUW
By Angelica Ingram
Published Oct. 11, 2016
When Cyndi Desjardins awoke out of a coma in St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto she discovered she no longer had her hands or her feet.
Weeks earlier she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, commonly referred to as flesh-eating disease, and her family was looking at the possibility of losing her forever.
Desjardins, 48, pulled through the ordeal and has been using it as a story of inspiration ever since.
Born and raised in Toronto, she was living a fairly average life until February 2011, when everything changed.
A wife and mother of two children, Desjardins was on maternity leave from her corporate job working in sales and marketing management when she got extremely ill.
In and out of the hospital due to her three-month-old son getting repeatedly sick, one night Desjardins spiked a fever, began vomiting and felt a strange pain in her right leg.
“The vomiting became more and more aggressive and so did the ache in my leg,” she said.
After a few days of increased symptoms, Desjardins went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with flesh-eating disease.
“When I arrived at the hospital, my kidneys and liver had failed,” she said. “I was in septic shock and they asked my husband to gather the family to say goodbye. I wasn’t expected to make it through the night.”
Desjardins did make it through the night, despite the disease having a high mortality rate, because she “kept on fighting.”
Shortly after her arrival she was put into a medically induced coma, to help her body fight off the disease.
After a few weeks in a coma, Desjardins began to show signs of improvement however the blood stopped circulating through her hands and feet, resulting in amputation.
“So my husband had to make the decision, after realizing I was probably going to make it, he had to make the decision to approve the amputation,” she said. “For me. it was as if I went to sleep and then woke up to find I had lost my hands and feet.”
Raised with a deep sense of faith and trust in God, Desjardins clung to hope she would get through the nightmarish ordeal.
“I dug deep for my faith,” she said. “I started to dream about what I could do again, like hold my baby son in my arms again.”
Desjardins began visualizing her goals and what her new life would look like. Despite being devastated, the wife and mother knew God would pull her through it.
Following her five month stay in the hospital, she moved to a rehab centre where she learned how to walk again, feed herself and do regular day to day activities.
“After five months I went home and realized how much more I had to learn,” she said. “I had to figure out a way to do just about everything.”
Desjardins had to relearn how to take care of her children, including how to change her newborn’s diaper. The time away from her son took its own toll, as she became a foreign person to him.
“It was a long and lengthy road,” she said. “Learning to do things without hands, that’s a completely different world that involves a lot of prayer and a lot of faith.”
The cause of the disease has never been confirmed, she said.
Although Desjardins found herself, like many who face devastating circumstances, asking why did this happen to me, she began looking at the situation from another angle.
“I came to the realization early on that I may never know why, and that brings great peace,” she said.
Her recovery has included getting prosthetic hands and feet, which followed some time in a wheelchair.
She has also had two hip replacements.
She gives a significant amount of credit to her husband Marc, parents, children and support system for helping her through the entire process and continuing to support her today.
“My husband is an amazing man ... he stood by me through everything and just showed me love and caring and continues to do that today,” she said.
Three years ago Desjardins and her family moved to just south of Kinmount. She travels all over to share her story through speaking engagements and has been featured on numerous media outlets.
“My husband shares the passion, to share the story wherever we can so that anyone who may face a life altering event can see how temporary it is and see the reflection of the light that can shine through it,” she said.
Desjardins will be sharing her story, including personal details about how she dealt emotionally and mentally, at the Canadian Federation of University Women Haliburton Highlands event on Thursday, Oct. 20.
Titled Igniting Your Inner Spirit and Finding Purpose – A Personal Experience with Flesh Eating Disease, the talk will take place in the Great Hall at the Haliburton School of Art and Design and is free to the public. Donations to CFUW’s scholarship fund are appreciated.
Desjardins is in the process of writing a book about her experience, titled Cyndi’s Story, and blogs about her day-to-day life.
She has also done peer-to-peer support, which she finds incredibly enriching.
“I think part of the beauty of doing this is when you do get that response that tells you that you’ve touched a heart ... and has inspired them, which is truly beautiful.”