NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - One woman wants to warn people about her painful path, the result of a severe and debilitating allergic reaction.
She had no idea what she was allergic to until she visited a fourth emergency room in two weeks. When FOX 8 caught up with Jessica Jones, she slowly unwrapped the bandages around her ankles to give us a clear picture of the trauma she endured. Her ankles, purple and blue, looked like they had been in a horrible accident, possibly even broken. It was the result of what she thought at first was a medical mystery, but turned out to be something quite common.
"The dermatologist said they see this all the time, but never as severe as this," said Jones.
It started as a red splotch on her ankle in mid-February. She noticed at work one day her ankle was feeling tight, and she thought it was a spider bite. Her primary care doctor said it appeared to be a case of cellulitis, a common bacterial skin infection. He prescribed antibiotics and steroids and sent her home.
By the next day, Jones said the pain was overwhelming and blisters were beginning to form.
"It really scared me because I'm thinking, what is going on?" Jones said.
She went to the emergency room in Picayune Mississippi, where the diagnosis was bullous pemphigoid. It's a rare skin condition related to an auto-immune disorder. Doctors prescribed pain pills and steroid cream. Within days, the blisters were so big, Jones could hardly walk.
"It was just the most miserable pain I ever felt in my life," she said. "And all I would do is just sit there and cry."
She paid two more visits to two different hospitals. One diagnosis was a photosensitivity rash. The other said it could be systemic lupus erthyrematosus. Doctors gave her more antibiotics, pain pills and creams, but there was still no improvement and no relief.
Jones was scared.
"It scared me because I'm thinking, what if they have to amputate my feet? That was going through my mind," she said.
By then, the blisters were monstrous, wrapping around her ankles. And she was confined to a wheelchair.
"They're telling me this is lupus, bullous impetigus, and I said, this is getting worse. I said, I've been on all these antibiotics, steroids, creams - nothing's working," she said. "And I said I can't take it anymore, I'm done."
Almost two weeks after her first doctor's visit, she called 911 and asked for an ambulance to take her to Oschner Hospital in New Orleans. After hours in the emergency room there, one doctor seemingly asked the right question. She wanted to know if Jessica had worn any new shoes.
She had, in fact, purchased and worn a new pair of leather sandals a week and a half before the irritation began. They're a popular brand you can buy in boutiques, shoes stores, even online. Jones said she was trying to break them in.
"I noticed a couple of days after wearing them, the top of my feet was getting sore, but I didn't think anything of it. Shoes have always done that whenever I tighten the straps up on them," Jones said.
It was all starting to make sense, because even her hands, where she had touched the shoes, had become irritated. Doctors at Ochsner unraveled the mystery.
"The doctor said where the strap is located on the shoe is exactly where your burns are. She says this is looking more like a chemical burn from leather more than bullous impetigus or lupus," Jones said.
The diagnosis was contact dermatitis, a severe allergic reaction to something in the shoes for which she had paid $25.
Asked if she blames the shoe manufacturer, Jessica replied, "No, it's not their fault. This was a freak thing that my skin reacted to."
We reached out to Ochsner for comment from their emergency room doctors who handled Jessica's case, but were told they wouldn't be available. We wanted to know how common the reaction is and how to recognize the symptoms.
"The severity of it is a bit unusual, but the actual disorder is not unusual at all," said Dr. Robert Benson, a board certified dermatologist for 36 years. With Jessica's permission, he looked over her medical records.
"It says suspected contact dermatitis due to new sandals. She essentially had, at the end of the day, second-degree burns," Benson said.
He says it's estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from some type of contact allergy. This one was likely whatever was used to tan the leather sandals or the dye used in the manufacturing process.
"Leather comes from all over the world. We don't know what they used to tan it to get it to the form to be used in apparel, so that's common," Benson said. "The severity of it is unusual. She may have also had a secondary infection which made it worse."
He said recognizing the symptoms of any contact dermatitis early is key, but it's fairly easy to spot when it's related to shoes.
"As soon as you see both sides with redness, blisters and irritation, don't wait too long to get checked out," he said.
Jones can walk again, but said she may never wear leather shoes again. She just hopes no one else has to follow in her painful path.
"I don't wish this on anybody. This was miserable," she said. 'It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me in my life."
Doctors say you can develop an allergy to anything at any time in your life.
Jones will undergo a thorough skin allergy test to try to pinpoint exactly what caused her reaction.