By Scott Thompson
DOCTORS THOUGHT that this man had cellulitis when he woke up to a lacrosse ball-sized lump on his elbow – to his surprise it turned to be a VERY RARE bacterial infection that EATS THE SKIN alive.
On March 21, 2015, special education teacher, Chris Gordon (44) from New Ulm, Minnesota, USA, found that overnight he’d developed a large lacrosse ball-sized bump on his right elbow which was sore and felt warm and within the hour he went to see his doctor.
At first, he was told he might have a type of inflammation and swelling called bursitis or cellulitis which is an infection under the deeper layers of skin. The doctor recommended that he went home and kept an eye on it.
So, he headed back home and through the day became more lethargic and by the evening he was admitted to the emergency room at the hospital.
The hospital didn’t know what was wrong with him so Chris was flown to another clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and received the devastating news that he had contracted necrotising fasciitis and that he would need lots of his skin taken off from a large part of the right side of his body from his hand, to his neck, chest and back.
Necrotising fasciitis is a bacterial infection and due to its toxicity, it destroys skin, fat and tissues around the muscles. The infection is very rare and when it takes hold the flesh-eating condition spreads in a matter of hours and days and can lead to sepsis and even death.
“I woke up on March 21, 2015 to a large lacrosse ball-sized bump on my right elbow and knew something was wrong, so I went straight to the doctor within an hour,” Chris said.
“My doctor thought it might be bursitis or cellulitis at first and told me to go home.
“As the day progressed, I was feeling more and more lethargic and my elbow was warm to the touch and was really hurting. Later that day I was rushed into the emergency room.
“They observed me but didn’t know what was wrong, so I was flown to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for further investigation.
“When I got there the specialists told me I had necrotising fasciitis and would need my skin removed from all the affected areas.
“Skin was removed from the back of my right hand all the way up to my neck and across the right side of my shoulder, back and chest.
“Obviously, the skin on my right shoulder was completely removed; however, since skin grafts are non-porous and don’t sweat, I have saved a lot of money on deodorant!
“Let me explain what necrotising fasciitis is like. Imagine a fire starting in the middle of a dry forest and the only way to stop it spreading is to keep ahead of it and conduct a controlled burn, and to do this you must remove trees before the fire could use them for fuel.
“Now imagine that the forest is your skin and the fire is the necrotising fasciitis.”
Chris then spent two weeks in the intensive care unit and six more on a regular ward where he was given a range of medications to help ease the pain and reduce blood clotting. He even received a prescription for one beer a day.
Chris had more than ten doctors working on him and another team who worked with the plastic surgeon.
When he finally left the hospital after 65 days, he received inpatient and outpatient care at the hospital for another eight months.
“Thankfully I didn’t need to go into isolation. I was in the intensive care unit for the first two weeks and then moved onto a normal ward for six more weeks,” said Chris.
“I worked with at least ten doctors and including the team who worked with my plastic surgeon.
“I was administered numerous medications, such as ketamine, morphine, Xarelto, oxycodone, oxycontin and beer.
“Having been in the hospital for so long, I asked my surgeon if I could have a beer. Later that same day my father-in-law Bill, who was also the Lutheran Chaplain came with a can of beer and two plastic cups in a brown bag. He went to double check with the nurses that I could drink and three minutes later the nurse came into my room with a written prescription for one beer a day.
“When I could finally leave the hospital, I was still given physical therapy as both an inpatient and outpatient for about eight months.”
Since his experience Chris has taken exercise and sports to a whole new level. He had already been running since 2002. He’s also done some boxing, water skiing and played football. He practices Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art in which he has just completed his black belt test.
“I am eternally grateful to God, my family, my friends and the excellent medical staff at Mayo Clinic. Thank you so much,” he said.
“I’ve been running since 2002 and I have also played soccer, boxed, water skied, and a few other sports. Since this event, I added Tae Kwon Do to my repertoire because my son started taking classes in Fall 2015, and it has been a goal of mine to obtain my Black belt in Tae Kwon Do since I quit in high school.
“This whole experience has motivated me to set many long-term physical fitness goals. I recently just took a test to earn a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I’ve also been running half marathons, 10ks, 5ks and long-distance relays and making new personal records.
“I have also become an ‘acting’ fitness coach to my friends online. It’s nice as I like to help them reach their own goals as well.
“One final thing I’d like to say is that if you’re alive you can truly thrive. Do everything to the best of your ability and look for ways to help others around you do the same.”
You can follow Chris on Instagram