Rural Freeport–Geri Ettel feels blessed. 

Three months ago, she couldn’t even see frozen Kings Lake out of the window of her and husband Linus’ window.

Thanks to medical professionals and the power of prayer she is on the road to recovery from a rare form of cellulitis, a bacterial infection that could have cause her to lose her eyesight.   

“One in a million,” Linus said April 2, glancing across the kitchen table at Geri, when asked just how rare a doctor said this bacterial disease in the eye is. 

It started the end of January with three ink-pen sized red, puss-filled spots on the top of her head. A headache the next morning sent her home from CentraCare Health-Melrose where she works in the kitchen. By Jan. 26 her right eye was red and puffy, and the next morning it had spread to her left eye leaving it red and swollen, with swelling moving down her neck. There was pressure but no pain. 

“It was 10 times worse (than the right eye) and her eye was glued shut,” said Linus. 

She spent hours in the St. Cloud Hospital Emergency Room, when an eye specialist was brought in, who wouldn’t touch it, Geri said. 

She was taken by ambulance to the University of Minnesota Hospital where a team of five doctors immediately evaluated her situation. 

 “This could have taken her eyesight, so doctors were very concerned,” said Linus. 

Shingles, which had been mentioned by another doctor, was ruled out because “Shingles doesn’t cross from the left to the right side or from the right to the left side,” said Linus. 

The U of M team determined Geri had cellulitis in her left eye, a common, potentially serious bacterial skin infection. According to the Mayo website, it occurs when a crack or break in your skin allows bacteria to enter. Cellulitis usually affects the skin on the lower legs, but it can occur in the face, arms and other areas. Possible signs and symptoms of cellulitis, which usually occur on one side of the body, include red area of skin that tends to expand, swelling, tenderness, pain, warmth, fever, red spots, blisters and skin dimpling. Left untreated, the infection can spread to a person’s lymph nodes and bloodstream and rapidly become life-threatening. It isn’t usually spread from person to person.

Because it was a bacterial infection, U of M disease control staff got involved. 

“Those first days the nurses and doctors all wore gowns,” said Geri. 

The Ettels are grateful to her medical professionals who would take the time to answer questions, like how this happened.

“If you have like a sore on your skin, it’s like poof, it (bacteria) could get into your blood, like it did with me,” said Geri.

During surgery on Jan. 29 doctors removed blackened dead skin around her left eyelid.  

“Cellulitis kills your skin,” said Linus. “They had to cut about half an inch of her eyelid, so when she shut her eye you could see her eyeball.” 

Two days later Geri could finally see out of that eye, but only shadows. 

“I can see! I can see! I told the doctor, and it brought tears to my eyes,” she said.  

She was on high doses of antibiotics for seven days and smaller doses another seven days, with her blood checked every three hours the first few days.  

“I told them (hospital staff) you have enough of my blood to have a blood drive,” said Geri. 

She spent one week at the U of M Hospital, with visits from their sons and wives, Brian and Sarah and Jeff and Teresa, their seven grandchildren and other family, including Geri’s twin brother Gerald Mareck and his wife, Diane.  

Her recovery continued one more week in a swing room at CentraCare Health-Melrose Hospital. 

Doctors said it could take her six to eight months to recover fully. Her strength is returning and so is her eyesight. She still experiences headaches and has some numbness by her left eye. Thankfully, skin grows back quickly. 

“March 4, the last time at the doctor, there was just a small hole in her eyelid,” said Linus. 

Because a muscle in her eyelid was cut during surgery, they may do a skin graft and cosmetic surgery to ensure the eyelid opens more. 

Linus, Geri’s husband of 38 years, said the skin has grown back so nicely, at times when they are eating supper together, he has to look twice to figure out which eye the cellulitis affected. 

She uses eye drops to keep her eyes moist. At first, she wore an eyepatch all the time to protect her eye and now only needs to wear it at night. Geri said her grandchildren tease her about them all being pirates.

“I say, ‘Grandma is a pirate. I have my patch,’” she said. 

She had a doctor’s appointment April 15 and is hoping she can return to work after that.

 Geri, whose older brother lost his sight in left eye after a tractor accident, now has a new appreciation for her sight. 

“You take things for granted. Then something like this happens and you realize how precious your eyesight it,” said Geri.   

The Ettels are thankful for the support they have received. 

“I’m blessed with all the support from family and co-workers and the wonderful prayers,” said Geri. 

A faith-filled family, Geri prayed to St. Therese and St. Lucy, patron saint of eyesight,  asking that her eyesight would be restored and “they answered my prayers and so did God,” she said. 

“I thank God I got my eyesight back,” said Geri, adding, “I feel blessed.”