Russell Bohay

In October 1997, I came home on a Friday morning from work with the back of my knee hurting. Being Native American and having no insurance, I went to the Indian Clinic in Anadarko, OK on Friday. They diagnosed me with a Baker's cyst. They gave me ibuprofen, an ace bandage and crutches. On Saturday, I couldn't walk. My leg hurt really bad. I went to the Indian Hospital ER in Lawton, OK. They told me that since Anadarko had first seen me, they couldn't do anything for me. I would have to wait until Monday and go back to the clinic. I went home, took my ibuprofens and tried to rest. I spent Saturday and Sunday at home in bed after returning from Lawton. Later about 3:00 am Monday morning, I woke up and told my wife that I was having trouble breathing and couldn't get up. She got me into the car and took me to the local hospital in Anadarko. Once there, they could not get a blood pressure and thought their machines were broken. They kept me and did all the routine tests and finally told me that all my organs were starting to shut down and there was nothing more they could do for me. At the same time, I was turning yellow, and the doctor thought I had cirrhosis(?). Being Native American, they naturally assumed I was an alcoholic, I guess. My liver enzymes were highly elevated. At the same time, I couldn't move my leg. All my blood levels were elevated and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. Finally, Dr. Jay Belt stabilized me enough to move me via ambulance to Grady Memorial in Chickasha, OK. Once there, my leg started swelling and I started running fever. I had been there for about 4 hours when they asked where the black blisters had come from on my leg, they hadn't been there before. I was now into the 92nd hour or so of the sickness. Anyway, they busted the blisters and took samples. I was lucky enough to have a physician on staff, Dr. James Winslow, who recognized the disease and working with the CDC to confirm what I had, I was in surgery within 1/2 hour of diagnosis. Now knowing what they were dealing with, they took me into surgery to do debridements. They told my wife that I probably would not survive and the family was called in. The doctors told her that hardly anyone survived this illness past 72 hours. They split my left leg open from the groin to the knee area on both sides, leaving the knee intact. They also opened my leg from below the knee to the ankle on both sides. After being in surgery for about 2 hours they moved me to isolation. They did not know if the disease was airborne or what. I spent the night there and underwent 3 additional debridements. Each time they rushed me to surgery with the hallways cleared and everyone behind closed doors and wearing masks. Every time they took me into surgery, the doctor told my wife that they did not think I would survive. After all the debridements, they stabilized me,and I was then transferred up to the Baptist Hospital in OKC via ambulance again. I was placed in the Burn Center under the care of Dr. Herbert Meitis as my physician. I underwent 13 more debridements to repair my leg and underwent numerous dives in the hyperbaric chamber (at least 3 times a day). They also scrubbed me down as they would a burn patient to remove dead skin. This was very painful. Once the debridements, dives, and scrubbings were over with, they did skin grafts. They took skin from my good leg, and what they couldn't get from there, they used artificial skin. (I was one of the first patients whose body accepted the artificial skin, and was on TV). I got out of the hospital on December 1st, after much physical therapy, as I had to learn to walk again. I had also been placed on tube feedings, became diabetic, and had to have a catheter and a main line inserted, plus much much more. Once I started getting well, they told my wife that the disease would not return, but in May of 1998, it came back and I was hospitalized again. No debridements, no skin grafts, just lots of high dosage antibiotics. During this ordeal, I also found out that I have HepC, for which I am now receiving treatment. All this started in October of 1997, and in November of 1998, my wife and I celebrated the birth of our 7th child, a daughter named Stephanie (Tuffi) Jon. I have learned to deal with the constant pain and am going day to day. I also know that if it hadn't been for everyone saying prayers for me, I wouldn't be here. Update December 2003: This is an addendum to the story that was originally posted. When I contracted the flesh eating bacteria, I received both artificial and skin grafts from my own body. The doctor told me that the artificial skin graft would only last 5-6 years. Well, here I am, and the doctors were right, at least the artificial ones! My skin grafts only lasted 5 years. My artificial skin grafts are separating from my leg. I am $750 thousand dollars in debt to the hospital that saved my life. I am a veteran, but the VA told me to go back to the original people who did the original skin grafts. The Baptist Hospital won't have nothing to do with me, cause I owe them so much money! We both work, but, we are at poverty level, and we make just enough not to qualify for anything. The doctors have told us that if an infection were to set in the leg, they would probably have to amputate. We have made it so far, six years. Our children have grown up with this disease. I am not asking for anything except your prayers.