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Woman going home after rare bacteria attack

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Published:   |   Updated: October 20, 2013 at 09:41 AM

BROOKSVILLE - Three months ago, Margaret Freiwald contracted a rare bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico, had her left leg amputated and was fighting for her life.

In six days, she'll finally be at home in Weeki Wachee.

The ordeal started in mid-July, when Freiwald, 84, scraped her shin while getting back into a boat anchored off of the Hernando and Bayport channels.

Freiwald and her partner, Walter Lettau, left for vacation in Naples the next day. By that evening, Freiwald's lower leg had swelled so severely she couldn't even walk down the stairs on her own.

Emergency room doctors knew right away what the problem was, Freiwald said - Vibrio vulnificus - a bacteria that lives in warm sea water that can be problematic for individuals with weakened immune systems who go swimming with open wounds.

Freiwald said she woke up two or three days later, surrounded by her family, knowing something was wrong.

"The doctor asked me if I wanted to lose my leg or my life, and I said my leg," Freiwald said. "And after that everybody said, 'You'll walk,' so I believed them."

In addition to the leg amputation, Freiwald sustained a heart attack. Her daughter, Amber Castleman, said at the time the infection spread to Freiwald's blood, causing sepsis, and led to compromised lungs and kidneys.

Freiwald spoke to Hernando Today about her recovery on Friday, sitting outside of Spring Hill Health and Rehabilitation. She recalled the experience between smiles and said she's recovering well and without any long-term complications, other than learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg.

"When I first came here I couldn't do anything," Freiwald said. "They really work you, which is a good thing."

Freiwald said it could take her up to a year to learn to walk properly with her prosthesis.

"I'll do it, I'll do it," she assures herself. "You can't look too far ahead, one day at a time, I get better each day."

Freiwald left the hospital in August and spent a week in St. Petersburg before coming back to Hernando County. She has been living at the rehabilitation facility and recently started spending Saturdays and Sundays at her Weeki Wachee home.

When she goes home for good on Saturday, Freiwald is looking forward to taking care of her gardens again. She already has trips planned for the Florida Keys and Palm Beach, but doubts she'll ever get in the ocean waters again.

"The pool is my thing," Freiwald said.

For those who do venture into the Gulf waters, Freiwald has a piece of advice: "If you have an open wound or a scratch, or anything, stay out of the water."

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