JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. —
"Both of my arms and both of my legs looked like I had been put on a charcoal grill," Aker said. "They were just black and crispy. From that point on, it was doctors and more doctors."
Eventually, Aker was told doctors would have to amputate her legs and arms.
"(The doctors) seemed to think it could have been some type of bacteria that was picked up because this tornado was so large, and came so far, and picked up so much stuff, but there was really no way to tell," Aker said.
Similar mysterious cases of bacterial infections were reported in the wake of other natural disasters, including a tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., in 2011. According to the Joplin Globe, 13 people were diagnosed with a fungal infection in the wake of the tornado. Five of the 13 people who were infected with the bacteria died.
The fungus — apophysomyces trapeziformis — grows in soil, water and wood, and is harmless to humans unless it penetrates the skin. When it does penetrate the skin, it enters the capillaries and cuts off the blood flow to tissue, killing large areas of tissue.
A team with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified the Joplin cases as mucormycosis, an infection that results from the fungus. Those with diabetes or cancer are at an increased risk for the infection. Aker is a breast cancer survivor.
After the surgeries, Aker began the rehabilitation process that lasted nearly a year. She was fitted for prosthetic limbs at a rehab clinic in Louisville, Ky., before she was moved to a long-term facility in Sellersburg, Ind.
The response of Aker's hometown in the aftermath of the tornado was an inspiration to her.
"We had help from a lot of people, but the entire community was very strong," Aker said. "Everybody who came through it, came through it stronger. And I think they came through with an appreciation of the human spirit."