TAMPA — Dwayne Scranton ignored the minor scrape on his knee, the result of a stumble in his Pasco County home in early February.
Two days later, the redness and swelling had spread up and down his leg and the pain was intense. But Scranton, a devoted football fan, wanted to see the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 before going to the doctor.
Then he developed a high fever and started hallucinating. His girlfriend, a licensed practical nurse, realized he was in no shape to know what he needed.
She called 911.
At St. Joseph's Hospital North in Lutz, doctors quickly diagnosed a serious strep and staph infection and admitted Scranton, 48. Ten days later, as the full extent of his injury became more clear, he was transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
It would be almost 100 days and five surgeries until he was released.
Scranton had contracted a bacterial infection, then quickly developed necrotizing fasciitis, commonly referred to as flesh-eating bacteria. It's the same kind of infection that Aimee Copeland, 24, is battling in a Georgia hospital after suffering a leg gash in a ziplining accident. She has had multiple amputations, a fate Scranton narrowly avoided, thanks to girlfriend Stefanie Arkin's decisiveness.
"I don't remember much about what happened, but I do remember the doctors telling me I could lose my leg and possibly my life because of this," Scranton said.
Dr. Lindell Busciglio, chair of infection control at St. Joseph's, said Scranton "is a very lucky man.''
"It's amazing to me that he did as well as he did,'' she said. "His case is remarkable, especially the fact that he didn't have any major organ damage or limb loss.''
His age and general good health probably helped him out, she suggested.
"In these situations, we don't always get to know why some do better and others do worse. He was lucky."
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There are many different kinds of strep bacteria, but the strain most often associated with necrotizing fasciitis, Strep-A, is particularly aggressive and potentially life threatening.
Busciglio said strep bacteria lives on the skin and generally causes no trouble. In Scranton's case, staph bacteria also was present, and that may have set the stage.
"The type of infection that Scranton had is common, but the syndrome he developed and needed multiple surgeries for is not common."
Bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin — a cut, prick or scratch. Sometimes just a bruise or blister is enough to cause trouble.
Once inside the body, the bacteria quickly starts reproducing and attacking soft tissue and the covering of muscles, the fascia. The bacteria eludes the body's immune system and sometimes resists antibiotic medications, allowing it to spread rapidly, leaving dead, gangrenous tissue in its wake.
The dead tissue has to be removed surgically and covered with healthy skin taken from elsewhere on the body.
Scranton describes the wound following his surgeries to remove infected fat and skin as a big hole in his left leg that starts at his ankle and extends to his thigh. It was covered with skin grafted from his right thigh and hip.
In the course of battling the infection, he lost 40 pounds. He says he's in some discomfort, and is not yet well enough to work. He has an appointment Friday to determine whether he'll need more physical therapy.
"But I feel lucky to still have both my legs," said Scranton, who has a karaoke business and delivered pizza part-time before he got sick.
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On the night of Feb. 2, Scranton stumbled walking upstairs in the dark, in his rented Land O'Lakes home. It was a relatively new home, and the tile-and-wood steps that he tripped on were clean, so he didn't think much of the incident.
When Scranton got up the next morning, his leg was swollen, but he attributed it to gout, a condition he has had for more than a decade.
Then the fever and hallucinations set in. Arkin knew whatever he had was more than gout, but didn't suspect necrotizing fasciitis. She called 911 because the symptoms were escalating — by then Scranton couldn't walk.
She was shocked at how quickly his symptoms progressed.
"Within three days, he went from a knee scrape to an infection that was eating him alive," said Arkin.
Scranton is speaking out to warn others not to ignore an infection that seems to worsen quickly.
"I was doing the dumb guy thing and thinking it can wait until tomorrow," he said.
Contact Irene Maher at firstname.lastname@example.org