Donna Cox raises her mortar board hat in the air in celebration.
Donna Cox was thrilled to walk across the stage at her Masters graduation ceremony after undergoing three operations on her leg.

An Edge Hill University student who was lucky to survive a so-called “flesh-eating bug” has secured her dream job.

Donna Cox, from Rochdale, became seriously ill and almost lost her leg after a mosquito bite became infected with necrotising fasciitis on a trip to Asia.

The 22-year-old went travelling around Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to celebrate completing her Masters in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health but had to cut her trip short after becoming unwell.

Doctors told her if she had visited A&E just four hours later she probably would not have survived and warned that after three operations on her leg she would struggle to walk again.

But Donna defied the odds and managed to walk across the stage with crutches at her graduation ceremony in December – and she has now secured her dream job.

A close-up of the infected bite on Donna's leg.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it to my graduation at all so to be able to walk across the stage to accept my certificate was the biggest moment; I was so emotional and so happy.”

Donna had planned to travel back to Australia following graduation but instead spent five weeks recovering in hospital undergoing intensive physiotherapy.

However, staying at home enabled her to start looking for work and she has now secured her dream job as a mental health nursing associate.

Donna is using her harrowing ordeal to raise awareness of the symptoms of necrotising fasciitis which include: intense pain that is out of proportion to any damage to the skin, followed by swelling and redness; a high temperature and other flu-like symptoms which may develop into diarrhoea and vomiting; and dark blotches on the skin that turn into fluid-filled blisters.

“A lot of students go travelling and I just want to do whatever I can to make sure people are aware of this infection and know what to look out for.

“I was doing everything you should to avoid mosquito bites like covering up and wearing spray but I was still getting bitten way more than anyone else I was with.

“Then this one bite became so painful that I couldn’t stand or walk properly. I had to get a boat back to the mainland to go to a pharmacy but the pain carried on getting worse so I ended up booking a flight home.”

Medical professionals examine Donna's post-operative stitches.
Donna underwent three operations to remove infected tissue.

Donna intended to book a doctor’s appointment but after speaking to an NHS out of hours service she went to Rochdale Infirmary A&E – the NHS makes it clear that necrotising fasciitis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

“By this point I was in excruciating pain and I was admitted and kept in overnight; they ended up rushing me by ambulance to the infectious diseases department at North Manchester General Hospital.

“I remember having to sign something giving them permission to amputate; I was so poorly I couldn’t get out of bed.

“This was only a week after I got the bite.”

Donna underwent three operations to remove infected tissue and is still undergoing physiotherapy to learn to walk again.

Her age and physical fitness were key to her survival and she acknowledged she will now need mental strength to take on the intensive physiotherapy needed to enable her to start her new job in March.

“I’m so grateful that I’m still alive and I’ve still got my leg. I’m planning to go back to Rochdale A&E to find the doctor who saw me. I want to thank her, she had an instinct about what was wrong and she acted on it. Without her I wouldn’t be here.

“And now I’ve got this job I almost feel like it was all meant to be.”

Donna sits on a motorbike against a stunning backdrop of a Southeast Asian coastline.
Donna enjoyed travelling around Southeast Asia before being struck down by a flesh-eating bug.

Edge Hill University offers a variety of taught Masters degrees including an MSC in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health.