$25 Manicure Turns Into $80,000 in Medical Bills

By Sabra Gertsch
SEATTLE -- Cheryl Woolf began suspecting something was wrong when she left the nail salon.

"A $25 manicure turned into $80,000 in medicals," she said.

Woolf rarely gets her nails done, but with a big occasion approaching she treated herself to a little primping on a fateful day nearly four years ago. But the manicure turned out to be no treat.

"Felt something weird. l pulled back and I looked down and saw that my fingers were bleeding," she said. Her right middle finger was the worst.

"I knew something was wrong," she said. Three months later, Woolf found herself in a terrifying situation. "I couldn't walk. I was screaming. I thought if I quit breathing, the pain would stop. That's how bad it was," she said

Woolf was suffering from Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant type of staph infection -- deadly bacteria that feed on open wounds. She had never heard of it before it launched an attack on her system.

"No, they didn't tell me; I knew I was going to die," she said. Woolf says a hand specialist tried to remove the nail on her middle finger. "Piece of metal, a small sliver of metal came out of my finger," she said. Her doctors diagnosed her with pneumonia and sent her home with antibiotics. But the pain persisted. "My primary care physician says, 'Why are you complaining so much? (I said) 'Because it hurts. I don't know what's wrong,'" said Woolf.

No one may have listened at first. But after five visits to the emergency room, someone began listening to Woolf. By then, her right lung was full of MRSA-infected fluid."I said, 'What is that?' And they said, 'That's what's coming out of your lung,'" Woolf said.

The nail shop in Snohomish County now has a new owner, but in 2007 Woolf filed a lawsuit against the former owners and reached a private settlement.

According to Washington state licensing records, Phuong. Q. Tran violated safety and sanitation rules and was fined $500 on at least one occasion. But that's not the end of the story; Woolf's run-in with MRSA led to something else. "The silver lining in the cloud was they found cancer," she said. Woolf had also been suffering from breast cancer, and because she was under treatment for MRSA, her doctors detected it early.

"Thinking how really lucky I am. There's a purpose. I guess something kept pulling me back here," said Woolf.

MRSA can look like a spider bite, abscess or boil. It's more deadly than AIDS in the U.S., but it should not be a threat if it is treated right away.