It Was Only A Sore Throat – But Now Her Whole Life Has Changed

Danielle Amato suffered multiple amputations due to an illness that started with what seemed to be a bad sore throat. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

HOWELL – A 2012 Howell High School graduate is recovering after suffering multiple amputations following an illness that began with just a sore throat.

  Danielle Amato, 28, said when she first started feeling sick, she opted for a virtual medical appointment on January 30, 2023. Following the consultation, the doctor prescribed medication to alleviate Danielle’s discomfort but also advised her to consider in-person medical treatment if her condition did not improve.

  To Danielle’s dismay, her symptoms not only persisted but intensified, causing excruciating pain. Finally, the sensation of her throat closing up became so overwhelming that Danielle felt prompted to visit an urgent care facility to get checked in person.

  Danielle remains a bit hazy regarding what happened during the examination at the urgent care center. Her last memory at that point was a call to her mother, notifying her that she was being rushed to the hospital.

  “I gave them my phone and asked them to call my mom and tell them where I was going,” said Danielle. “But they didn’t.”

Sally and Vincent Amato couldn’t be happier to have Danielle home with them, especially after her illness took several bad turns. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Sally Amato, a registered nurse, had lots of questions. The sudden escalation of her daughter’s sore throat into an emergency situation left her deeply concerned. Meanwhile, Danielle had moved from home to Philadelphia, and Sally faced the daunting challenge of finding her daughter among the many hospital systems.

  The power of friendship and technology united in a stroke of good fortune. Danielle recently went out on a date with a new acquaintance and decided to make sure a friend could find her if things didn’t go right. Through the magic of innovation, Victoria was able to help Sally successfully track down Danielle by finding the location of her smartphone.

  Medical records confirm that Danielle’s description of her throat closing up was far from an exaggeration – it was a grim reality. The constriction became so severe that it significantly impaired Danielle’s breathing ability. As a result, her oxygen saturation values plummeted to life-threatening levels.

  Doctors ultimately concluded that the root of Danielle’s issues was caused by a bacterial infection known as group A streptococcus. While strep throat diagnoses might seem routine to some, this infection came with a rare and frightening complication. Danielle’s body had been taken over by toxic shock syndrome.

  “It was so random and scary,” Danielle shared. “I never had strep throat growing up, and the doctors said that’s what made it worse. They also said I could have died if I didn’t go to that urgent care.”

  One of the first steps to save Danielle’s life was putting her on a ventilator. Sally said the Temple University Hospital – Episcopal Campus medical staff explained the necessity to sedate Danielle so she didn’t inadvertently fight the tubes critical to her survival. The throat closure made it even more of a challenge as the breathing tube needed to be inserted in her nose.

  Danielle has no recollection of her harrowing experience when she first made it to the hospital. Doctors at the Episcopal Campus decided the young woman needed a higher level of intensive care and arranged for her transfer to another Temple facility at the Jeanes Campus.

  “The day of the transfer was a Tuesday,” said Sally. “I called to check on Danielle, and the staff told me the cardiologist was just about to call me. They said they thought Danielle had a heart attack.”

  Sally was flabbergasted and pushed for confirmation that the report pertained to her 28-year-old daughter and not someone else in a different room. Regrettably, the infection also began a ruthless attack on Danielle’s organs. Her kidneys were shutting down, and her liver had also fallen victim to the affliction, further exacerbating the gravity of the situation.

  Within a couple of days, Danielle went into heart failure, and doctors gave consideration to placing her on a heart-lung machine. This required a transfer to the main campus of Temple University Hospital.

  “They had started her on a drug that they continued after they made this transfer,” Sally explained. “They thankfully didn’t need to put her on the machine.”

  While Danielle’s liver bounced back, the renal failure meant dialysis for weeks. Finally, less than a month after she’d been put on the ventilator, doctors performed a tracheotomy and  weaned her off the machine. When Danielle awoke from her sedated state, she was shocked to see how else the infection had affected her.

  The combination of medicines needed to keep her alive and the infection itself had also adversely affected Danielle’s extremities. Insufficient blood flow resulted in the need for numerous amputations.

  “I looked down at my fingers and saw they were black,” said Danielle. “I thought I’d burned them.”

  Danielle has already experienced the loss of toes on both of her feet, with a more substantial amputation on the right foot. Furthermore, her dominant hand has been completely amputated up to her forearm. While she remains hopeful that the rest of her left hand can be preserved, Danielle anticipates that the fingers on that side will require amputation. Despite the challenges she faces, Danielle’s spirit remains hopeful for the best possible outcome.

One of Danielle Amato’s first goals was to make her friend’s wedding, which she marked off as one of her first accomplishments. (Photo supplied by Amato family)

  After months of hospitalization and in-patient rehabilitation with her mother by her side, Danielle was able to come back to her childhood home last month. She set a number of goals and was thrilled to complete the first one within days of discharge.

  “My friends Sage and Shane were getting married,” Danielle shared. “I got out on May 13 and made it there.”

  Danielle has a number of friends who have rallied to support her since she first became ill. Some are neighborhood buddies, while others date back to her college days at Rutgers. Danielle also made another set of friends when she first moved to Philadelphia to work for AmeriCorps and went on to get her master’s degree at Temple University.

  Things that Danielle once took for granted now pose significant difficulties. For instance, Danielle is unable to walk and can’t drink a glass of water on her own. Danielle’s speech patterns slowed, and even Siri doesn’t recognize her voice to respond to commands.

  Nevertheless, Danielle’s unwavering determination drives her toward reclaiming her independence. While her previous professional endeavors revolved around assisting underprivileged youth in going to college, Danielle’s personal challenges have propelled her towards a new path.

  “I also want to make sure that people with disabilities have access to higher education,” said Danielle.

  While undergoing diverse forms of therapy, preparing for additional surgeries, and adapting to the prospect of prosthetics, Danielle has established personal goals to guide her journey. Considering her mom as her best friend, Danielle finds immense joy in being back home with Sally and her father, Vincent. Nonetheless, Danielle holds firm plans to return to Philadelphia at the earliest opportunity to reunite with her roommates and independently care for her beloved cat, Butter.

How To Help

  In the meantime, Danielle has no idea how high her medical bills have reached or whatever expenses to anticipate. The Howell community has come full force to help Danielle with a fundraiser scheduled for Sunday, June 25, 2023 from 2-6 p.m. at the Howell Elks. Tickets are available for $15 and gift basket donations are also appreciated.