Irish lorry driver 'within an hour of death' from flesh-eating bug which may have been transmitted by spider bite
Colin Smyth (44) was within an hour of death when doctors carried out an emergency operating to save his leg - and his life.
Published 15/09/2016 | 10:29
An Irish lorry driver has told how he almost died after his body was attacked by a rare flesh eating bug.
Doctors are mystified as to how the bug got into the limb. One theory is that he may have been bitten by a spider.
The terrifying ordeal started in April when Colin went to bed. In the night be began to feel very cold and developed a raging thirst and a feeling of nausea.
His wife Linda-Jane called the GP at 6am and the doctor arrived two hours later, giving Colin some morphine.
Colin said: "The pain was excruciating. I usually have a very high pain threshold but this was unreal.
"The doctor called for an ambulance immediately, which took me to the Antrim Hospital.
"Nothing was visible on my leg, but as the doctors were examining me my leg started to turn black from the ankle up, literally before my eyes.
"The surgeon, Dr Whiteside, told me I had to have immediate surgery - firstly to save my leg, and secondly to save my life."
Colin was rushed into theatre immediately where surgeons opened up his leg to uncover the deadly flesh eating bug, or Necrotising fasciitis in medical terms, had eaten a good chunk of his flesh around the calf area.
Colin woke up after the op on a ventilator and in intensive care. At a first glance at the wall clock he thought it was Tuesday evening - it was actually Thursday morning.
Colin had been put in a coma for almost two days and had not realised what was wrong with him.
"The doctors put me in an induced coma to operate on my leg. When I woke up I looked down and could only see my toes. I was able to wiggle them and it was only then I knew my leg was still attached.
"The doctors saved my life. If I had been an hour later under the knife, or if I had gone to wait in casualty, I wouldn't have made it.
"The medical staff wanted my wife to tell me what had happened, because I had no idea.
"I couldn't feel my left leg around the calf area, even though I could wiggle my toes. My leg was bandaged from ankle to hip. Surgeons had removed a lot of tissue, nerves and two tendons from my calf, hence I had no feeling there.
"They told me the operation had been carried out in the nick of time as the bacterium was rapidly moving through my body looking for a main blood vein.
"If it had found that, the bacteria, or bugs, would have spread into my main organs and that would have been goodnight.
"Those doctors saved my life. I went to bed one night in April and am lucky I can still go to bed today."
In fact, Colin's body was closing down and he was put onto a kidney dialysis machine to keep him going through the op.
He has an existing skin disorder and is diabetic, but none of these contributed to him contracting Necrotising fasciitis.
His immune system was fighting an infection, but not the infection that was threatening his life. There is no exact reason as to why Colin was infected by the bacteria. Doctors think it could have been present in his leg for a week before he was rushed to hospital.
The flesh eating bug can exist just under the skin, where it can rapidly spread.
It can enter the body for any number of reasons, but one theory suggested by doctors was that a spider may have been to blame.
"I don't recall being bitten, but that's just a theory. Bad bacteria can enter the body by a number of ways if your skin is punctured somehow."
Colin lay in the Antrim Area Hospital for three weeks after his surgery, before being moved to the Ulster Hospital to receive a skin graft on his wound.
Specialists shaved skin from the top of his leg to cover the wound, but the first attempt failed.
Fortunately for Colin, the second surgery was a success.
"I can tell you, having a skin graft is very sore indeed. You wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy.
"The first attempt didn't hold and I told the doctors to make sure the second one did as it was just too painful having skin shaved from one part of your leg to be sown on another part.
"I have to say the care I received in both the Antrim Hospital and the Ulster Hospital was tremendous. The doctors and all the medical staff were very caring and helpful," he said.
Colin now wears a compression sock, walks with a limp and attends occupational therapy sessions to help with his leg movements.
He never will have any feeling around the wound, as the tendons and tissue are gone.
He is on the mend and hopes to return to work very soon.
However, the trauma of it all still haunts him.
"I went to the shower one evening and was dressing myself when I saw my leg in the mirror.
"I am 44 years old, but am not afraid to admit I burst out in tears. My wife couldn't understand what was wrong with me.
"I just told her I wanted the leg removed, as I couldn't bear to look at it any more.
"On my next visit to the doctor, I told him the same thing, but he assured me this was just the trauma talking and he arranged some counselling should I need it."
Colin is very thankful to his wife and family for all their support through his tough time.
There have been four other similar cases treated in the Antrim Area Hospital this year.
"It was too close! I was almost a goner!
"My wife was very quick to react that morning in calling the doctor.
"I am a very lucky man."
As a consequence of his surgery Colin has been banned from flying for a year, so his holiday plans have been put on hold for now.