PITTSBURGH - A Plum man knows firsthand the horrors of necrotizing fasciitis, also known as flesh eating bacteria. Garth Wise survived the painful diagnosis.
"You can't even describe. It was beyond anything you could ever experience. It was like being eaten alive,” Wise said.
“I have never seen him complain about pain,” his wife Sandra said. “That's when I knew it was something serious.”
Wise and his wife were driving back from vacation in the winter of 2009 when he suddenly became sick.
“Nobody seemed to have any answers. I just kept getting sicker and sicker,” he said.
Wise eventually arrived at Forbes Regional Hospital, where he underwent a series of tests before he received the surprising diagnosis from Dr. James McCormick.
Dr. McCormick has seen a few cases as a resident and knew quick action was needed to save Wise’s life.
“You can get it from a simple cut or a break on your skin,” McCormick said. “The bacteria itself actually produces a toxin that decreases the blood supply to various tissues. It compromises so that the tissue actually dies.”
The Wises credit McCormick’s diagnosis and commitment for saving Wise's life.
“It moves so rapidly. Within a day it had gone from the top of my hip to the bottom of my hip,” said Wise.
Three days after Wise started feeling sick, he was taken in for the first of countless surgeries to remove dead tissue and keep the infection from spreading.
“The problem is that it is very rare and it happens quickly, so we don’t have the luxury of researching because we have to act right away,” explained Dr. McCormick.
Wise was in Forbes and West Penn Burn Center for the next month. After that he required several surgeries for blood clots, skin grafts and a colonoscopy.
The battle left him physically and emotionally scarred.
“I was having nightmares and flashbacks and certain things would set me off,” he said.
While Wise still doesn’t know how he was infected, he is thankful he was able to return to work a year later and hopes his story will lead to more research and a higher survival rate.