Jack Schick

By DAN AUSTIN The State News On Labor Day weekend of 1998, East Lansing resident Jack Schick faced the most difficult struggle in his life - a battle with flesh-eating bacteria that took his leg and nearly took his life. Doctors didn't expect him to live, yet little more than a year after leaving the hospital, Schick has returned to his position at Karoub Associates, a Lansing-based lobbying firm. State Sen. Bill Schuette, R-Midland, said Schick is one of the best lobbyists in Michigan and stands out from more than 1,000 registered lobbyists in the state Capitol. "What Jack brings to the business in being a lobbyist is noteworthy," Schuette said. "Even though we don't always agree, he does his job accurately, justly and truthfully. He's just a great guy." It seems everyone in the Capitol knows Jack Schick, and fellow lobbyists respect him. Photo by SONYA BORDEAU - The State News Jack Schick stands Tuesday in Sparrow Hospital, where he was treated for a flesh-eating bacteria, necrotizing fasciitis. Schick and three other Lansing area residents were hospitalized a year ago for the infection. He was the only one who survived. At the time of his near-death experience, the Grosse Pointe native and 1972 MSU alumnus thought he had nothing more than the flu. His throat was sore and he had "the worst charley horses I had ever had." But when his wife and 3-year old son came home that day, they found him delirious and oblivious to his surroundings. The next thing Schick remembers is waking up 16 days later in Sparrow Hospital, his right leg amputated. Doctors were amazed that he even pulled through. Three other men with the flesh-eating bacteria, or necrotizing fasciitis, had been admitted at the same time as Schick, but died. "Apparently they had given me my last rites twice," Schick said. "The doctors told me the bacteria was consuming an inch of flesh an hour." The flesh-eating bacteria is a mutation of the same bacteria that causes strep throat but attacks the body's soft tissue, usually in a limb. Initial symptoms are similar to the flu, and can include high fever, soreness and tiredness. Sometimes people with necrotizing fasciitis think they have the flu and do not seek treatment until they are very ill. Symptoms vary, but they may include minor skin opening and disproportionate pain around the wound within 24 hours. Swelling, blistering and skin discoloration could occur within three to four days. After four to five days blood pressure drops severely and the body goes into toxic shock. The bacteria sets up a command center-like presence in the body and typically is accompanied by toxic shock syndrome, said Dr. Preston Church, associate professor in the Infectious Diseases Division in the College of Human Medicine. The toxins caused by the shock syndrome attack every major organ of the body, killing a person to more efficiently consume their body. There are anywhere between 1,200 to 1,500 cases across the country, and approximately 12 people from the Lansing area are treated for the bacteria each year, Church said. One of the things that makes it so deadly is that its initial symptoms are mistaken for the flu, said Jacqueline Roemmele, a survivor of the disease and co-founder and executive director of the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. Another contributing factor to the infection's ruthless reputation is that protecting yourself from it is nearly impossible, said Peter Gulick, associate professor in the College of Internal Medicine. The strep bacteria can live on your skin, and there's no way you would know it, Gulick said. If it's there and you have a cut, sore or abrasion, it can cause havoc on your body. The bacteria can be controlled by simple antibiotics, but once the toxin is released, it's like the cat's out of the bag. While a vaccine is being developed, Gulick said, the bacteria still kills 30 to 40 percent of people it infects. Okemos-based prosthetist Jan Stokosa said he has people come to him from around the world, but Schick's case was one of the most extreme that he has seen. "I've been in this field for 30 years, and Jack's story is one of the most amazing cases, and certainly one of the most successful stories, I've ever seen," Stokosa said. Since those operations, Schick, formerly an active skier, said he is planning to head back out to the slopes, and he says his golf game is better than ever. "Until you're faced with something, until you're at death's door, you have no idea how rough life can be," Schick said. To help spread awareness and advance research of necrotizing fasciitis, Schick set up the Jack Schick Fund. Schick gives major credit to Sparrow associates for his survival and this is a way of giving back. We're going to start having some receptions and fund-raisers in January, Schick said. With all of my political contacts, I'm talking with people at the state level to try to generate aide and interest.