Dad left fighting for life after nail biting leads to deadly infection

Steven had to have emergency surgery on his infected finger [Photo: SWNS]

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A dad was left fighting for his life thanks to a severe infection caused by his life-long nail biting habit.

Steven MacDonald, 48, was rushed to hospital just days after noticing his left index finger had become infected.

The former postman - who has bitten his nails all his life - was initially given magnesium sulphate by a pharmacist in an attempt to cure it. 

But his finger continued to swell and started oozing green puss.

Four days later his fiancée, Karen Peat, 47, spotted a rash on her partner, which ran from his finger up his forearm.

Steven was rushed to University Monklands Hospital, North Lanarkshire, where he was found to have an extreme case of paronychia – an infection of the skin around the fingernail.

Doctors were concerned the infection was spreading, so sent him straight to the Glasgow Royal infirmary where he had emergency surgery to save his life. 

Steven's infected nail was swollen and leaking green puss [Photo: SWNS]

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Recalling discovering the seriousness of the situation mum-of-two Karen, a care worker, from Coatbridge, near Glasgow, Scotland, said: “At first we weren't that worried as he'd had little swellings before where he'd been nail biting, but when it kept getting worse and then he showed me the rash, I really started to panic.

“I knew it was quite serious then so I rushed him into our local hospital. The doctor took one look at it and he was whizzed right through the A&E queue.

“After giving him a strong shot of antibiotics they told us we'd need to go straight to Glasgow Royal Infirmary for emergency surgery.

“They told us that if we'd left it even a few hours longer he might have been dead.

“I was so scared.”

Initially the couple weren’t worried when Steven's finger became red and itchy, but after noticing it turning green and swelling up Karen insisted on getting it checked at the local pharmacy.

The pharmacist also didn’t seem concerned and suggested magnesium sulphate, which can be used to draw out splinters, pus or infection from the skin.

When the finger continued to swell Steven visited another chemist, where the “worried” pharmacist booked him an appointment at an out of hours doctors surgery.

Steven recalls the doctor wasn't too concerned but did suggest the finger should be lanced and properly cleaned out at hospital.

Having learned there would be an eight or nine hour wait, the couple decided to leave it until first thing the following day.

“But when I got up the next day there was a rash all up my arm, coming from the finger, it was a bit like sunburn,” Steven remembers.

“I didn't think much of it but Karen seemed quite worried so we rushed into A&E.”

There, Steven was given antibiotics and sent straight to Glasgow Royal Infirmary for surgery.

Following a two hour operation to remove the infected flesh on 6th January this year, Steven was kept in for observation for four further days, before returning home to recover.

READ MORE: Mum saves son from potentially deadly sepsis by spotting early sign

The two hour operation involved removing the infected flesh [Photo: SWNS]
Doctors aren't sure if Steven's nail will grow back [Photo: SWNS]

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Following his ordeal Steven has now quit his nail biting habit.

“I've been tempted to bite a few times since, as it’s been a habit of mine for so long, but I've told myself not to.

“It's weird now that I'm not nibbling away at them, they're actually growing really fast.

“I keep joking that I might need to get myself down the salon for a manicure!

“But seriously, I really cannot thank the NHS enough, they reacted so fast, it was incredible.”

Despite the possibility that his nail might never grow back dad-of-one Steven remains positive.

He’s chosen to share his experiences to warn other nail biters about the potential danger.

“This ordeal has taught me a huge lesson, to any nail biters out there, please just pull your finger away from your teeth!” he said.

“I'd never had a problem like it before but it left me seriously considering life and death.

“I was quite jokey about it until I came around from the operation and realised what a close call it had been.”

Steven and his fiancee Karen were shocked at how quickly the infection escalated [Photo: SWNS]

What is paronychia?

According to the Patient.info paronychia is a common infection of the skin just next to a nail. The infected nail fold looks swollen, inflamed and may be tender.

Treatment usually involves antibiotic medicines for germ (bacterial) infections, but occasionally an operation is needed to drain out any pus which has collected.

Nail biting can make you more prone to infections such as paronychia because it can cause a break in the skin, which can allow the germs on the skin to get inside.