Man survives flesh-eating bug

DOCTORS have saved the life of a Suffolk man after he was struck down by an horrific “flesh-eating” superbug, the EADT can reveal today.

Craig Robinson

WHEN Gavin Elliott complained of soreness in his side he thought he had just pulled a muscle.

But as the pain became excruciating, and following persuasion from his wife, the 34-year-old decided to get himself checked at Ipswich Hospital.

It was there that doctors made a shocking discovery - he had contracted a life threatening, extremely rare “flesh eating” superbug known as Necrotizing fasciitis.

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The infection, which has a mortality rate as high as 73%, affects the skin and within just 24 hours had spread rapidly through his body - across his back and abdomen.

His life hung in the balance and doctors feared that he would not make it through his first operation.

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What followed was a two-month nightmare for Mr Elliott and his new wife Sarah - who tied the knot less than a year before the horrifying ordeal.

He was rushed into surgery on June 2 and had two three-hour operations - one to remove the infected tissue, which covered around 20% of his torso, and the other to graft skin from his legs back onto his body.

He was able to leave hospital on July 2 - in time for his wedding anniversary on July 7 - but was in again two weeks later complaining of severe stomach pains.

After a number of tests it was discovered he had contracted Clostridium-difficile and that his colon was also close to bursting - another life threatening condition.

He has now returned home to Rosehill Road in Ipswich and is making a full and remarkable recovery.

Speaking for the first time of the ordeal, he said: “There was a red mark under my armpit and I had a pain in my left side,” he said. “We'd been out with friends the night before and I just thought I'd over done it or pulled a muscle.

“At that stage - on the Sunday night - I didn't panic but by the Monday when I was getting ready for work it was getting worse and worse.

“It was one of those typical situations - being male - that I didn't want to ring up and bother the hospital. Thankfully Sarah persuaded me to go to A&E and it's a good job she did.

“They gave me morphine to control the pain but it had no effect. The doctors knew something was terribly wrong and they did lots of tests. Luckily the surgeon who did the operation had seen it before and knew exactly what it was so they rushed me into theatre.

“They cut open my chest and removed a lot of skin from my back and side. When I came out I was on life support for quite a while.”

Mr Elliott, who works for Desira car dealership in Diss, said it is still a mystery how he caught the infection.

“We may never know,” he said. “I take medication for another condition that suppresses my immune system - that's the only thing we can think of.

“We're now just happy to put it behind us. I've been extremely lucky and it was very frightening. It's been up and down but I'm on the road to recovery.

“I have a lot to thank Ipswich Hospital for - I can't praise them enough. The surgeons, doctors and nurses have been fantastic and without their quick thinking I dread to think what would have happened.”

It was also an incredibly emotional time for Mr Elliott's wife - who was due to start a new job on the day he was taken into hospital.

The 32-year-old said: “I just had a feeling that there was something seriously wrong - that's why I made him go to A&E. They did every test you could think of and six hours later he was out of theatre and in the intensive care unit on life support.

“It was really touch and go for quite some time - the nurses even took me to one side and said I should expect the worst. They didn't think he would make it through the night.

“I didn't leave hospital for the whole of the first week. It's lucky he's still here now. The surgeon said to us that it's extremely rare and it's common to misdiagnose. It's amazing how quickly it spread. If Gavin had gone to work I dread to think what could have happened.”

Mrs Elliott, who works for civil engineering company Costain - which is overseeing the expansion of the Port of Felixstowe, was also quick to praise those at Ipswich Hospital and especially the newly opened Garrett Anderson Centre.

“Gavin actually said it was like a hotel. He had his best night's sleep in hospital there. It's very swanky and modern - it didn't feel like a hospital at all.”

The couple - who were married in Mr Elliott's parents' home of Framlingham - would also like to pay tribute to the kindness of their employers along with their friends and family, who have provided an invaluable amount of support in the last few months.

“We just want to highlight the infection and say 'thank-you' to everyone,” Mr Elliott said. “I received well over 50 get well cards. We couldn't have got through it without them.”

Necrotizing fasciitis

§ Necrotizing fasciitis is commonly known as “flesh-eating disease”.

§ It is a rare infection of the deeper layers of skin and can spread incredibly rapidly.

§ The Health Protection Agency recorded just 136 cases in the UK in 2003 and 2004.

§ The affected area is at first very painful without any grossly visible change but tissue can become swollen, often within hours.

§ The skin may then appear as if it is bruised and blisters may form - with the patient becoming very ill and experiencing fever.

§ Early medical treatment is crucial and surgical exploration is always necessary - often resulting in aggressive removal of infected tissue (which can mean amputation).

§ Mortality rate has been noted as high as 73%.

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