March 14, 2018
51 Year-old Robert Morgan was experiencing a normal day preparing for his children to be home for Christmas when he began experiencing shoulder pain. Hours later his pain escalated and flu symptoms began. With suspicion that he may have injured his shoulder he visited a local ER for x-rays but was sent home without a diagnosis.
Hours later Morgan felt something wasn't right and that's when he headed to Orange Park Medical Center ER for a second opinion. "The pain became unbearable," said Morgan. "I tried ibuprofen, an ice pack and heating pad but nothing helped."
Morgan arrived sweating, weak and unable to move his right arm. Within minutes emergency room physician Justin Deaton recognized Morgan's condition was potentially life-threatening and consulted Surgeon Dr. Elias Tsirakoglou.
"Progression of redness and bruising was happening right in front of our eyes in a short period of time. That confirmed that we needed to move quickly," said Deaton, the Emergency Medical Director of Trauma for Orange Park Medical Center. "Every hour that goes by the mortality rate goes up."
The physicians identified that Morgan had contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh eating bacteria, requiring immediate surgery.
"As soon as we were able to assess what was happening under the skin I knew it was only hours before we could lose him," said Dr. Elias Tsirakoglou. "We used cutting edge technology to get ahead of the disease which helped us save his life without having to amputate his arm."
It was the fast actions of both doctors and Morgan's instinct that saved his life.
"If Robert would have waited any longer he wouldn't have made it," said Tsirakoglou. "With this condition, time determines whether someone is going to live or die."
After seven procedures and five weeks at Orange Park Medical Center Morgan is back home and improving each day. Morgan lost the majority of his skin and muscle from his armpit down to his hip and from his sternum to his shoulder blade to the infection.
"I'm very lucky. I'm happy to be alive and I'm extremely thankful for what everyone did," says Morgan. "I may have missed last Christmas with my family but I'll have many more because of them."
As Morgan pushes through his recovery spending two days a week in therapy he wants people to know, "If you have an injury that doesn't feel right or any kind of cut, no matter how small, that seems to be infected don't ignore it. Watch out for flu symptoms and get to the ER quickly."
Necrotizing fasciitis is a bacterial infection that destroys tissue under the skin. The condition begins when bacteria enters the body and spreads quickly between the skin and muscle causing symptoms of redness, bruising, fever, fatigue and pain. Treatment for the condition can include IV antibiotics and surgical removal of the infected tissue. Those with weakened immune systems are more likely to contract the condition including those with diabetes, kidney disease, alcoholism, cancer or other chronic conditions. Despite the high quality treatment available today, the risk of death is 25-35%, increasing with delay to treatment.
Ways to avoid necrotizing fasciitis include avoiding hot tubs, pools or bodies of water if you have an open wound or skin infection and hand washing.