At first, Raul Reyes, 26, thought it was a blister from an injury at work. Then a yellowish mass spread across his right foot.
The Houston day-care teacher is now coming to terms with the ravages of a flesh-eating infection that burrowed into his appendage.
“He woke up the next day and the blister was covering his entire foot so he went to the clinic, where they told him to get to the emergency room immediately,” his wife, Joseline, told the Houston Chronicle. He was admitted Feb. 23 at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston.
An x-ray revealed the disturbing possibility of a deadly infection, spurring a race to stop the bacteria before it entered Raul’s bloodstream, which would accelerate the spread of the disease.
A surgeon reassured Joseline that doctors would try everything they could to keep her husband whole.
That optimism did not last long.
“Thirty minutes pass and I see the doctor come out,” Joseline said. “She tells me that she tried to get as much bacteria out, but that they had to amputate his foot to save his life.”
But the couple already faced another challenge. Raul does not have health insurance, she told the Chronicle, making a prosthetic foot a costly proposition. A high-end device can be as much as $5,000, and costs vary depending on the design and other concerns such as fittings and maintenance.
It appears that Reyes may be a victim of necrotizing fasciitis, commonly called a flesh-eating infection. The rarely contracted bacteria kill the body’s soft tissue and can be “deadly in a very short amount of time,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 700 to 1,100 cases have occurred each year in the United States since 2010, though there are probably more cases that go unreported.
The bacteria are commonly acquired via salty or brackish waters through four organisms coming into contact with open wounds or cuts. It was not clear which Reyes encountered. The CDC warns against numerous types of necrotizing fasciitis by cautioning people with open wounds or skin infections to avoid whirlpools, hot tubs, swimming pools and natural bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.
Doctors believe Reyes contracted the bacteria through an open wound from an ingrown toenail. Houston is on the Gulf of Mexico, though Joseline said she is confused about where her husband might have contracted it.
“We were like, ‘No, he’s perfectly healthy. We haven’t gone to the beach in a year.’ So, it’s just weird how all of this happened,” she told local station KTRK. She and her husband could not immediately be reached for comment.
Houston was the scene of a more tragic bacterial infection in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Josue Zurita was helping repair damaged homes two months after the hurricane made landfall. He died six days after necrotizing fasciitis entered his bloodstream through an open wound from what doctors believe was debris or floodwater.
But luckily for Reyes, he survived after doctors intervened. His family started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $11,000 for the prosthetic, the page says.
The campaign has drawn donations from sympathetic people, including one man who says he was in a similar situation in August, when the flesh-eating bacteria tore into his foot.
Doctors told him that he would lose his leg, but four surgeries later, his limb was saved, the man, identified as John Stewart Jr., wrote Sunday. “Best wishes for a speedy adjustment to your new leg!” he wrote.