After undergoing two invasive spinal surgeries this summer, Selling Sunset star Amanza Smith is a survivor in the truest sense of the word.
The 46-year-old interior designer revealed to PEOPLE how osteomyelitis, a potentially rare and life-threatening bone infection was attacking her lower vertebrae. After a severe backache that lasted nearly a month caused her to collapse one evening at her Los Angeles home in May, Smith agreed to let a close friend take her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center five days later.
An MRI discovered that Smith had vertebral osteomyelitis, a condition that is fatal for two out of 10 patients— and in her case it was dangerously advanced. “One or two more days at home and you could have been dead,” her doctor told her later.
“I thought I had a backache, and I almost died,” Smith tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “The doctors and my friend saved my life.”
It’s been a long, agonizing journey since those early days after her diagnosis. When Smith arrived at the hospital on June 2, doctors put her on IV antibiotics, and she underwent surgery on her lower spine to “clear the infection from the bones,” Smith explains.
But it turned out the osteomyelitis, which can result from contamination during a medical procedure or an injection (in Smith’s case doctors couldn’t determine a cause) had also infected another area at the front of her spine.
The section looked too dangerous to operate on initially. "It was close to my aorta and my kidney," Smith explains.
Doctors hoped antibiotics would stop the infection, but her vertebrae continued to deteriorate. "The risk was the antibiotics wouldn't penetrate the bone, and my entire back could collapse," she adds.
Smith underwent a second surgery lasting six hours, in which doctors inserted a titanium mesh cage in her back, with rods and screws keeping her spine together. "I am an iron woman, with rods and screws," she jokes.
The reality TV star finally returned home on July 3. The road to recovery includes six more months of antibiotics, along with physical therapy and treading lightly on her feet.
"There are so many things I can't do, because I can't lift more than five pounds," she explains. "Sometimes my purse is too heavy. You can't speed up time, but I'm very anxious to be able to do the things that I love to do. I like to decorate. I like to rearrange. I want to be able to hang things, but I'm very limited right now."
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Despite the challenges, her health scare has given her a new perspective.
"You know who your friends are when you become a burden," she says. "Its like a rebirth. I will never take my mobility for granted again. When I can walk and jog again and do Pilates or ballet, I hope I stick to them because I plan on living to be 107."
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