Flesh-eating disease experience prompts play for North Bay actor
Losing her left arm to flesh eating disease hasn't stopped North Bay actor Maureen Cassidy from persuing her craft.
She has written and stars in a one-woman play about the ordeal in 2015 when surgeons cut away her left arm and much of the tissue on her left side.
"By the time I got to emergency my hand had started turning black," Cassidy recalled.
"[Her surgeon] said 'we have to take off your arm.' And he said 'you could quite possibly die from this because it's aggressive and it's damn fast this awful bacteria'."
"That particular surgery was probably one of the worst surgical experiences of my life," said plastic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Dickie who usually operates to enhance a person's appearance as opposed to removing body parts.
"We basically used a marking pen, just drew a line on the front of her torso, up the back of her torso, and we basically said, 'Okay, this is what we have to remove,' and that's what we did."
Recalling the ordeal
The one-woman play tells the story of the aftermath of the operation. It begins with the dreams and hallucinations Cassidy experienced while in an induced coma for 11 days.
"I dreamed I was way over on the other side of the world somewhere and someone had kidnapped me," she said.
"And I knew I was being sedated, and I could see nurses or people coming in...and I tried to wake up...and I thought if I don't wake up, I'm going to die."
Cassidy felt trapped in her room, unable to speak.
On stage, she details how she remembered friends and family members visiting, but dreamed they were imposters, sent to fool her.
Cassidy could well have died from the disease. She suffered a heart attack during the surgery and was on strong drugs that are known to cause hallucinations.
In a dramatic scene on stage, she rips a prosthetic off her body and locks it in a suitcase.
The second half of the play Cassidy details the skin grafts necessary to repair her torso.
Still needing narcotics, she believed the hospital was a brothel, with nurses turning tricks on the floor above her room.
When she the drugs wore off, Cassidy started writing down what happened in those dreams.
"Because I knew that life was never going to be the same again...and I thought I want to make this into something. A play or something. In my mind the story was too fantastic to be ignored. I could not deny the story. I needed to tell it," said Cassidy.
Life after flesh-eating disease
Until 2015, Cassidy had a successful acting career, including parts in made-for-television movies, stage productions and dozens of commercials including a series of ads as the Campbell's Soup Mom.
"No one is going to hire me for commercials anymore," she said, "I'm asymmetrical and mutilated. I have to do my own work. I have to create my own work. That's what I'm doing."
Despite her worries, Cassidy has landed parts in a couple of Shakespeare productions, and her agent booked her a spot on a cereal commercial for Kelloggs.
But for now, her focus is on her play which is called "18 Degrees."
It's a reference to the angle which she folds out her bathroom mirror, and sees her right side reflected back to her, making her look whole.
On stage she describes how in her dreams today, she is "whole again."
The production also details her pain, both physical and emotional.
As extraordinary as her story is Cassidy believes everyone can relate.
"Whether their brokenness or mutilation is apparent, everyone has felt it, contended with it or raged with it at some point of their lives," she said.