NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Spring is in the air and pretty soon thousands of people will be hitting the lakes of East Texas. But before you do, a warning of caution about flesh-eating bacteria, or Necrotizing fasciltis.
Last February, we told you about East Texan Travis Moore, 74, who died a week after a fishing trip on Lake Conroe. But he isn't the only one who has dealt with the quickly spreading infection. In 2007, Nacogdoches man, Steve Gilpatrick, got Vibrio Vulnificus, a curved bacterium that usually occurs after eating seafood, especially raw seafood.
However, for Gilpatrick, who had been down at Crystal Beach in Galveston with his family, he had only been in the ocean for 15 minutes. His wife, Linda, says he had a Diabetic ulcer on his right calf, and doctors confirmed the ulcer was the entryway for the bacteria.
"He was sick immediately. Feverish; didn't feel good. [He was] burning up. I noticed his leg was inflamed so that's when we decided to go to an emergency room and get him some help," Linda Gilpatrick said.
The couple went to an Urgent Care facility on Galveston Island, when they were directed across the street to the University of Texas Medical Branch after several doctors recognized it as a flesh-eating bacteria type infection.
After two days in the ER, doctors confirmed he did have flesh-eating bacteria.
"I heard about it. A lot of people had never heard about it; surprisingly. But a lot of people had never heard about it. I had, but I didn't know what the effects would be," Linda Gilpatrick said.
The effects were 20 blood transfusions and 9 surgeries, including several skin grafts. Linda said she didn't realize doctors would actually have to cut her husband's skin off to curb the spreading infection. Within days, his right calf was nothing more than tendons and bones.
"They will let you watch while they re-bandage. He was in the intensive care unit—the burn unit—and that's because they end up doing skin grafts on everything. Once they determine you're going to survive they start grafting," Linda Gilpatrick said.
Survival for the Gilpatrick's was the ultimate dream, and unlike Moore, who died after being sent via life flight from Huntsville to a Houston area hospital, Steve Gilpatrick survived. But he wasn't allowed to go home for three months.
"They were really good to allow me to spend a lot of time with him and I think that's so key—is to be able to try to help that person not be depressed once they let you be awake," Linda Gilpatrick said.
Linda says life at home was different, and life-changing. They had to get their car specially made so that Steve could drive it with his leg, and they had to redo a lot of things around the house. But they got through it. Unfortunately, in December 2012, Steve was diagnosed with lung cancer. Linda says he barely made it four months and then he was gone.
"We had those good years between 2007 and 2012 and that created another challenge and [me] taking care of him," Linda Gilpatrick said.
However, Linda's mission is still the same: to make sure people understand and educate themselves on flesh-eating bacteria.
"The more people know then maybe they will make the right decisions about going into the water. You see signs posted at the beach that the water has been tested for bacterium and bacterium has been found. Well, let me tell you, they do not test for Vibrio Vulnificus," Linda Gilpatrick said.
Linda says anyone who has a cut, infection, and even a weak immune system should be careful. She says one thing that did help her husband was Dakin's Solution, which is an antiseptic solution containing sodium hypochlorite. It can be found at most drug stores.
"It's actually a very light mixture of bleach and water and you know, if you feel like you got to get around the beach, the water, fresh water even, mix up some Dakin's in a spray bottle and spray yourself down. And it might keep you from getting it," Linda Gilpatrick said.
She says if you do go to the beach, or the lake, or even a river, to be extra careful. She urges anyone who experiences an inflamed limb or any kind after a trip to a water source, should seek medical help immediately.
Unfortunately for Moore, whose brother said he complained he felt as if he was having a heart attack, the infection was found after it was too late.