A man in his thirties who almost died after contracting an extremely rare flesh eating bug is attempting to raise awareness of the condition.
Robbie Walsh (36) was diagnosed with Necrotizing Fasciitis in July of last year. He was told at worst he had a 25% chance of survival with the best case scenario involving the loss of a limb.
In an interview with the Neil Prendeville show, on Cork's Red FM, Robbie said that fortunately doctors in the Mercy University Hospital in the city were able to save most of the impacted limb.
Last summer Robbie noticed that he had had a tiny cut on one of his toes. Initially he was unperturbed by it. However, he said his condition quickly worsened.
"It was a case of 'I didn't notice the cut at all.' Then the pain became unbearable. I went to South Doc. They thought it was gout. They gave me steroids and an injection for pain.
"It became progressively worse and I couldn't breathe. I thought I was sick and the foot was something extra. I went to hospital. They took bloods and it (the leg) had gone black. They had to cut it open to relieve pressure. I am not sure what happened after that. They took a sample and it took 48 hours. They said it was Necrotizing Fasciitis (NF). I had never heard of it."
Robbie says that NF is what is commonly known as a flesh eating bug.
"The doctor saved my life. He said 'we have to go right now.' He said we had to go for emergency surgery. He said it was life threatening. 'That leg is probably gone', he told me. It was eating its way up my leg. It was a 25% chance of pulling through.
"He was trying to save my life. They said 'we are actually trying to save his life not his limb.' This was unbelievable. I was told there wasn't time to say goodbye to my two children.
"By the time I was being brought to the lift my wife ran up. She was told to get my affairs in order. My wife gave me a kiss. The operation was a success in that I was alive and some how my leg was still there.
"When I woke up in ICU I was told my leg was still going to be amputated."
Two days after Robbie woke up from surgery his breathing slowed, his kidneys were failing and his lungs were collapsing.
"I was on the way out, all this from a pinch or a cut.
"The medical team rang my wife again and this time she was pretty much told I probably would not pull through.
"Somehow I pulled through but was placed on a ventilator and remained on it for a few days, tubes everywhere. I was even fed through tubes.
"I couldn’t get out for the bathroom. All I could do was move my eyes and my hands which I used to write to communicate.
"As you can imagine the pain drugs I was on were no one’s business.
"I couldn't sleep because I was afraid I wouldn't wake up again."
Robbie was in ICU for a total of 12 days before finally being transferred to an observation ward.
"Each day the marker they used to mark my leg to indicate where it would amputate from got lower and lower.
"I had to go to the theatre a further five more times making it seven operations at this point. After about six weeks in hospital the disease had finally gone and I could get a skin graft. They took skin from my thigh which meant another week being bed bound.
Finally I got good news that the leg took to the graft and at this point no more operations were needed.
"The recovery could begin and I could finally stop the fight I was putting up."
At the end of August 2019 after a two month stay Robbie was finally allowed out of hospital under strict guidelines.
"A year on I’m a million miles better than I was but I’m still in a recovery stage.
"The physical pain I went through was brutal.
"I want to raise awareness about Necrotizing Fasciitis because it can happen to anyone.
"I’m a fella who couldn't win on a €2 scratch card, yet I caught a disease in the rarest of categories.
"People should be aware that this stuff happens not just on the internet and TV , it happens here close to home. I’m one of the rare survivors to not only walk and tell his story but to live and tell it."
NF is an infection that results in the death of parts of the body's soft tissue. It is a severe disease of sudden onset that spreads rapidly. Symptoms usually include red or purple skin in the affected area, severe pain, fever, and vomiting.
It is a rare condition caused by several kinds of bacteria. Some of these bacteria also cause infections such as strep throat and impetigo. But in rare cases they can cause a more dangerous infection. You can get necrotizing fasciitis when bacteria enter a wound, such as from an insect bite, a burn, or a cut.
It can progress very quickly and lead to serious problems, such as blood poisoning (sepsis) and organ failure.
Even with treatment, it's estimated that up to two in every 5 cases are fatal.
People who survive the infection are sometimes left with long-term disability as a result of amputation or the removal of a lot of infected tissue.
They may also need further surgery to improve the appearance of the affected area and ongoing rehabilitation support to help them adapt to their disability.