Sean Helgesen

My name is Sean Helgesen, and I am an NF survivor from Oceanside, CA. My wife found this website while I was still in the hospital, and I have visited it from time to time during the past three and a half years since my release. This site was a great comfort to me and my wife as we were going through the recovery process following my illness. My story began on April 25th, 2008. I am a high school physical education teacher, and I awoke that Friday morning with what felt like a pulled muscle on my right rib cage. Due to the fact that I was fairly physically active and lifted weights regularly, I didn't think that it was strange. As the day went on, though, the pain on my right side began to spread up into my right shoulder and down to my right hip. The pain seemed to be growing in intensity by the hour. By the end of the school day, I could no longer lift my right arm and the pain had now spread all the way down to my right hand. Though, I was concerned about the pain, and confused as to why the pain was spreading throughout the entire right side of my body, I still not feel it necessary to go see a doctor. I am also the track coach at my high school and traveled that afternoon to a track meet at a nearby high school. On my way, I was becoming increasingly tired and began to feel like I was coming down with the flu. After about an hour at the meet I became severely nauseous. I had to leave the meet. Somehow, I was able to make the drive home. By the time I made it home, I could barely move, as the pain had become unbearable. My wife wanted to take me to the doctor that night, but I assured her that I would feel better after a good night's sleep. I spent the whole weekend on the couch, getting increasingly weak and increasingly thirsty. I consumed very little food, but drank gallons of water, Gatorade, etc. Nothing seemed to quench the thirst. The pain on my right side was so intense that I propped my right arm up on pillows and tried to stay motionless. Throughout the entire weekend, my wonderful wife, Shannon, kept trying to get me to go in to see a doctor. But, I wouldn't go, thinking that it was just a bad case of the flu and that I would get better after a couple days of rest. I had also convinced myself that the pain was a muscle pull made worse by the flu. I woke up Monday morning more weak and in more pain than ever. I called in to my district to get a substitute teacher for my classes and emailed lesson plans to a fellow teacher. It took all the energy I had to just make a phone call and send an email. I then went back to bed. My wife woke me up to tell me she was taking our two children to school. I told her that I thought it was time to go and see a doctor, but told her to take the kids to school first. It was while she was gone that I realized how sick I really was. Although she was only gone for about 30 minutes, it felt like hours. There was actually a very scary moment when I had the realization that I might not make it until she got back. To have the feeling that you might actually die is truly terrifying. I went to the bathroom, and noticed that I had passed some blood. At that point, Shannon returned and I told her that she needed to call 911, as I didn't think that I would make it sitting in an ER waiting to be seen. The firemen arrived first, showing up in less that two minutes. They took my blood pressure, but didn't tell me what it was. When the paramedics arrived, they had the EMT's check my blood pressure again. It was 66/44. At that point, I was but on the gurney, loaded in to the ambulance, and whisked off to Tri City Medical Center in Oceanside. I was immediately put on IV fluids to deal with my severe dehydration and extremely low blood pressure. When I arrived at Tri City Medical Center, doctors took me in to get a CAT scan of my right side. Since I couldn't lift my right arm, they were not able to get the full view, but they saw enough. The doctors told me and my wife that they believed it was necrotizing fasciitis and that I was in toxic shock, with my kidneys and liver shutting down. I was also told that my heart was functioning at only about 25%. They told us I would need immediate surgery to control the infection but that I only had about a 20% chance of surviving. Luckily, Dr. Lawrence McCarthy was available for the surgery. He had experience with NF in the past. Dr. McCarthy made an approximately 20 inch incision on my right side, starting in my arm pit and ending on my hip. Not only did he, and the rest of the Tri City staff, save my life, but Dr. McCarthy was able to get all the infected tissue in the first surgery. Luckily, I did not have to go in for more debridements. I was in Tri City Hospital for four weeks. It was a crazy time, more for my wife and family than for me. I had never spent a night in the hospital before, and there I was, confined to a hospital bed for 4 weeks. All I had to do was lay there and heal. My wife had to deal with the doctors and nurses all the while trying to keep the rest of the family operating as normally as possible. She is the strongest person I know, and I do not know how she was able to handle all of this as well as she did. But, I must say that the staff at Tri City Hospital, and Dr. McCarthy and Dr. Nielson, did a great job of dealing with the necrotizing fasciitis along with all the other issues that came up during my stay, such as blood clots, temperature spikes, low blood pressure, etc. I owe that hospital and its staff, along with my wife, for saving my life, no question about it. Sometimes, I wonder why it is that I was able to survive this disease when so many others haven't. Sometimes, I wonder why I made it out of this disease with no major lasting physical effects when so many others have had their daily lives compromised by this disease. Again, I go back to the care I received from the doctors and nurses involved and to the resiliency and the love of my wife and family. But, here I am over three years later, and life goes on. Even so, I am always reminded of what I went through and how it affected me and the people that I love. Every once in a while, I try to reach for something and can't quite make it due to the slight loss of range of motion in the area. Every once in a while, a family member or friend asks me about it and I remember the physical trauma I went through and the mental and emotional trauma my family and friends went through because of this. Every once in a while, my kids will try to get me to show someone my scar. Every once in a while I will get a spark of pain in my side as the nerves that were severed in the surgery try to fire up again. But, we move on and try to act as normal as possible, all the while realizing how lucky I am to be writing this as a survivor story and not having my wife write this as a dedication.